CITY ARE THE CHAMPIONS! Vrancic winner seals title triumph at Villa for promoted Canaries
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Mario Vrancic has written his name into Norwich City folklore once again, scoring a cracking late winner to seal the glory of the Championship title for Daniel Farke’s brilliant promotion winners.
Teemu Pukki’s early goal had been cancelled out by Jonathan Kodjia in the first half but Vrancic’s late strike put the icing on the cake in style, with title rivals Sheffield United held to a 2-2 draw at Stoke.
It’s the fourth time the Canaries have won the second-tier title, adding to the triumphs of 1972, 1986 and 2004, the win also matches the 94 points of Nigel Worthington’s 2004 champions, the highest total City sides have managed since three points for a win was introduced in 1981.
The success completes a quite incredible campaign, from finishing 14th last season, with local rivals Ipswich relegated after finishing bottom of the table.
The hosts made five changes ahead of their play-off campaign, with key men Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Tammy Abraham all left out, but City stuck with the team which had beaten Blackburn 2-1 to seal promotion.
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The Canaries flew out of the traps and were very nearly ahead inside 30 seconds when Onel Hernandez cut a cross back from the bye-line on the left but Marco Stiepermann could only turn wide on his weaker right foot.
Their goal did arrive in the seventh minute though, with Kenny McLean slipping a lovely pass to Hernandez in the left channel and the winger’s low cross poked in from close range by top scorer Pukki – scoring his 30th goal in all competitions this season.
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Within six minutes the hosts were level though, after a sloppy Emi Buendia foul on Conor Hourihane conceded a free-kick on the right.
Andre Green swung in a low free-kick and Jonathan Kodjia got to the ball first, with City’s defence caught napping, and flicked past Krul into the bottom-right corner for 1-1.
Villa were growing in confidence and Max Aarons was needed to make a vital block of a Green shot in the 17th minute, preventing the forward testing Krul at close quarters.
The 2,800 City fans were singing ‘we are top of the league’ in the 20th minute as news filtered through that title rivals Sheffield United were losing at Stoke, thanks to a goal from former Norwich loanee Sam Vokes.
Both sides had chances just after the half-hour mark, with left-back Jamal Lewis smashing a shot over the bar for the visitors and Kodjia heading a Hourihane cross just over at the other end.
Kenny McLean needed a couple of minutes after appearing to hurt his knee when tackling Kodjia and played on initially, getting back crucially to deny Kodjia with skipper Christoph Zimmermann caught out, but the Scot was eventually replaced by the experienced Alex Tettey in the 42nd minute.
Before that substitution Stiepermann had made a timely tackle in the box on Kodjia and Tim Krul got down well to clear as the forward turned the loose ball goalwards, with Hourihane not too far away with a spectacular 25-yard strike either as Villa pushed.
It was Norwich who went closest to the next goal though, with Hernandez hitting the bar with a dipping 20-yard effort deep into injury-time.
Within three minutes of the restart news came through that Sheffield United had equalised in the Potteries and it was Villa enjoying the better of an increasingly scrappy game.
Axel Tuanzebe nearly turned into his own net from a Stiepermann cross though and the hosts struggled for clear-cut chances, with City’s defending increasingly tired and desperate.
Lewis should have reclaimed the lead in the 64th minute after exchanging a fine one-two with Stiepermann into the box but the youngster – the only regular not to have scored for Norwich this season – curled his close-range shot agonisingly beyond the far post.
Home defenders Tuanzebe and Kortney Hause both made important blocks to halt Stiepermann and Buendia smashed a rising shot over after a Vrancic free-kick was blocked by the wall.
Then the mood started to turn though, as City fans started celebrating Stoke reclaiming the lead against the Blades, twirling scarves above their heads and chanting ‘we are going up!’ as the leaders pushed for the goal that would crown them champions.
With Mo Leitner on for Stiepermann, who had needed treatment, Ben Godfrey went close when he headed a Buendia corner goalwards but straight into the arms of Jed Steer.
The roller-coaster ride continued with news that Sheffield United had found another leveller at Stoke, with Krul saving a well-struck Adomah strike in the 83rd minute, only to spill it behind for a corner – as nerves continued to jangle, with Buendia also going close to a second yellow for a challenge.
But it was that man Vrancic, who had scored the brilliant promotion-sealing goal against Blackburn last week, completing a wonderful team move started by Krul and finished with a sumptuous low strike beyond Steer’s glove into the bottom-left corner.
City saw out the remainder of the game with their fans going wild, with Vrancic going close to another, to seal their wonderful triumph in front of the biggest Championship crowd of the campaign.
The Canaries players can now enjoy the best part of two months off duty before they return for pre-season training, with Premier League fixtures due to be announced on Thursday, June 13 (9am) and the season scheduled to begin on Saturday, August 10.
NORWICH: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann (C), Godfrey, Lewis; Vrancic, McLean (Tettey 42); Buendia, Stiepermann (Leitner 73), Hernandez (Hanley 90+2); Pukki. Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Klose, Cantwell, Rhodes
Booked: Buendia (kicking the ball away, 29), Zimmermann (dissent, 60), Lewis (foul on Lansbury, 78)
Goals: Pukki (7), Vrancic (84)
VILLA: Steer; Hutton (C), Tuanzebe, Hause, Taylor; Whelan, Hourihane, Lansbury (Bjarnasson 80); Adomah, Green, Kodjia (Davis 72). Unused subs: Kalinic (GK), Elphick, Elmohamady, El Ghazi, Jedinak
Booked: Lansbury (foul on Vrancic, 62)
Goals: Kodjia (13)
REFEREE: Peter Bankes
ATTENDANCE: 41,696 (2,800 away)
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