Hugill (36, 76)
Hugill brace ensures superb City beat Bristol
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
An impressive performance to deservedly beat Bristol City 2-0 moved Norwich City seven points clear at the Championship summit, thanks to an eighth win in 10 games.
Jordan Hugill had headed the dominant Canaries in front before the break and the striker finally got the second that was needed in the 76th minute, after good play from Max Aarons.
The only change for City was keeper Tim Krul returning in goal and youngster Daniel Barden dropping to the bench, as Hugill continued up front in the absence of top scorer Teemu Pukki.
The visitors named the same team that had won 2-0 at home to Preston at the weekend, with former Canaries striker Chris Martin up front.
Typically for the 2020-21 season, the hosts were missing nine players and the Robins were without eight of their first-team contenders.
For Norwich two of those players were Pukki and midfielder Marco Stiepermann, who had played pivotal roles in the Finn’s early brace during a 3-1 win at Ashton Gate in October.
There was no such blistering start on this occasion, with the Robins staying solid and wary of the league leaders, but there were two big chances for the Canaries in the opening 20 minutes – either side of Krul and Hakeeb Adelakun both strangely missing a spinning ball after Aarons had charged down a Kasey Palmer shot.
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Mario Vrancic played Emi Buendia into the box in just the second minute and the Argentine pulled the ball back to Cantwell on the edge of the box, whose low shot was read by keeper Dan Bentley, who got down to make the save to his right.
The hosts were playing some lovely football, with Cantwell at the heart of things again, just as he was in the win at Cardiff at the weekend. The ‘Dereham Deco’ spread the ball to Aarons on the right, who picked out Buendia on the move, only for Robins skipper Tomas Kalas to make a crucial block in the six-yard box.
Bentley made a superb save to stop a powerful right-footed shot from McLean finding the top-left corner in the 28th minute, with the visitors’ bright start giving way to looking disheartened at struggling to keep up with the creative play of Norwich.
Hugill had misread a lovely McLean cross from the bye-line on the left in the 35th minute, getting in a muddle at the near post so that Bentley could deflect his close-range shot wide. However, he soon made up for it.
The resulting corner was cleared but kept alive by Aarons, who slipped the ball to Cantwell in support, with the whipped first-time cross which followed doing a lot of the work and Hugill using the pace to place a header into the far side of the net and break the deadlock.
It was the big striker’s first league goal at Carrow Road, with Cantwell’s form seeing him involved in five of City’s last eight goals at that stage.
Vrancic had a volley from an Aarons cross saved and McLean curled a shot just beyond the far post as City went in at the break with a totally deserved 1-0 lead.
At half-time they had 66pc of possession and had produced five shots on target, to Bristol’s solitary early blocked shot, but the job was far from finished.
It looked like Hugill had a second in the 55th minute, as the Canaries resumed control, but after powerfully meeting a fine cross from Jacob Sorensen with his head he was both denied by Bentley and then the offside flag was up anyway.
Six minutes later and it was Sorensen causing problems again, linking with Cantwell and turning his marker to blast a right-footed cross in from the left, which was cleared and then smashed over the bar by Olly Skipp from the edge of the D.
Bristol substitute Antoine Semenyo pulled a low shot a couple of yards wide at the other end before Buendia blasted a brilliant left-footed thunderbolt just wide of the top-right corner for Norwich in the 63rd minute, with the ball just swinging away at the last moment.
City were desperate for the comfort of a second goal and soon after Bentley beat a deflected Aarons shot away, with frustration creeping in on both sides.
Finally that second goal arrived though, with the Canaries taking the 2-0 lead that was the very least their vibrant attacking display had deserved.
It was a second of the night for Hugill, and his fourth of the season, but he knew little about it as Aarons worked his way into the box and fired a low shot which deflected kindly for the former Preston striker to chest into the net from point-blank range.
From there, it was a case of being sensible, as Daniel Farke worked through his substitutions – including the returns of Kieran Dowell and Onel Hernandez.
Next up for City is a trip to Barnsley in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday (3pm KO).
NORWICH (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Hanley (C), Gibson, Sorensen; Skipp, McLean; Buendia, Vrancic (Placheta 77), Cantwell (Dowell 89); Hugill (Hernandez (90+2). Unused subs: Barden (GK), Omobamidele, Tettey, Rupp, Martin, Omotoye
Booked: Cantwell (aggressive behaviour, 52)
Goals: Hugill (36, 76)
BRISTOL CITY (4-4-2): Bentley; Hunt, Kalas (C), Mawson, Rowe; Adelakun (Semenyo 56), Vyner (Bakinson 85), Nagy, Palmer (Wells 75); Diedhiou, Martin (Massengo 85). Unused subs: O'Leary (GK), Mariappa, Moore, Edwards, Bell
Booked: Palmer (aggressive behaviour, 52), Vyner (dissent, 76)
REFEREE: James Linington (South Wales)