Late Vrancic strike gives Norwich City lift-off in the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Mario Vrancic’s late strike ensured Norwich City won their first game at Carrow Road since February - with the Canaries picking up back-to-back wins in the Championship after beating Birmingham City 1-0.
City struggled to breakdown a resilient Blues side for long periods of the game but their patience was rewarded when the Bosnian midfielder swept the ball into the net three minutes from time.
Daniel Farke made two changes to his starting XI from Saturday’s victory at Rotherham – with Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki recalled. The former was on the receiving end of some blunt comments from City’s boss after his omission from the matchday squad at Bournemouth last month.
City’s academy graduate has displayed the reaction his head coach wanted to see subsequently and started his first game since City’s 2-2 draw with Preston North End. Pukki was deployed in a number ten position behind Saturday’s matchwinner Jordan Hugill. Marco Stiepermann missed out through illness.
Aitor Karanka switched to a three at the back and gave summer signing Jonathan Leko his debut. Marc Roberts made his first start of the season – coming in to play alongside seasoned Championship operators George Friend and Harlee Dean.
The Canaries had a real zip about their play in the opening exchanges. Ollie Skipp burst ahead of the ball and received in behind the Blues high defensive line. The Spurs loanee got to the byline and his cross was met by Emi Buendia, who couldn’t keep his header down.
Birmingham then had a chance of their own – Maxime Colin was sent racing down the right and, despite suspicions of offside, crossed for Kristian Pederson at the back post. He teed up Ivan Sunjic, but his shot was wild.
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City’s dominance continued – with Xavi Quintilla offering an outlet on the left-hand side. Pukki and Lukas Rupp exchanged passes before the Spaniard delivered a low cross towards Jordan Hugill – but the striker shot tamely wide.
The best chances of the first-half fell to Cantwell. First, the 22-year-old thought he was fouled after getting to the ball ahead of Dean, but City recycled possession and Pukki’s pull-back fell kindly for Cantwell – only for the midfielder to strike it wide.
Moments later, he robbed the Blues off the ball and surged towards goal. Pukki was screaming for him to square it but Cantwell went alone and saw his shot smothered by Neil Etheridge.
Birmingham were beginning to have joy on the counter and Sunjic carried the ball forward before finding Leko. He rolled the ball across to Ivan Sanchez, whose dipping shot deflected off Quintilla for a corner.
Hugill played a significant role in creating two chances for City after the break. The striker received the ball from Buendia before curling an effort over the bar. Buendia then found the former West Ham striker who sent Pukki racing through. The angle was acute but the Finn managed to get his effort on target.
City did have the ball in the net after 62 minutes – when Buendia’s pass split open the Blues defence and Cantwell lobbed the ball over Etheridge. City’s academy graduate had strayed into an offside position.
Cantwell was proving influential in City’s attacks – he exchanged passes with Buendia before finding Quintilla. His driven cross was met by Cantwell, who could only direct his shot wide.
A stunning block from Colin prevented Cantwell breaking the deadlock after Aarons cross was deflected into his path. Still City probed, and Pukki robbed Sunjic of the ball to send Adam Idah racing through but referee Oliver Langford judged that the Finn had committed a foul – much to Farke’s fury.
Cantwell was once again at the heart of the action again – when Clayton brought him down cynically to earn his second yellow card of the evening.
From the next attack, City did find the breakthrough.
Przemyslaw Placheta’s wayward pass gifted the Blues possession, but Rupp’s tenacity won back possession for the hosts. Idah went racing through. The ball fell kindly for Vrancic, who swept the ball into the net to give City the lead.
City had a few scary moments towards the end of the game - but saw it through to record their second win in as many matches.
- Norwich City (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Hanley (C), Gibson, Qunitilla; Rupp, Skipp (Vrancic, 80); Buendia, Pukki (Placheta, 85), Cantwell; Hugill (Idah, 69). Subs not used: McGovern (GK), Tettey, McLean, Martin
- Bookings: Idah (blocking Etheridge, 90)
- Goals: Vrancic 87
- Birmingham City (3-4-3): Etheridge; Roberts (San Jose, 90), Dean, Friend; Colin, Sunjic, Clayton, Pedersen; Sanchez, Hogan, Leko (Bela, 55). Subs not used: Prieto (GK), Boyd-Munce, Dacres-Cogley, Gardner, McGree
- Bookings: Clayton (foul on Rupp, 51), Dean (foul on Buendia, 54), Sunjic (foul on Cantwell, 90)
- Red card: Clayton (second bookable offence, 86)
- Goals: None
- Added on time: 1 min/6 mins
- Referee: Oliver Langford