Shaky start but City new boy rallied to show glimpses of attacking threat
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It proved a brutal introduction to English football for Dimitris Giannoulis during a hard fought 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough but Norwich City's new left-back showed character to shake off a worrying start and show glimpses of his potential.
The Greek international had been able to train with his team-mates since his work permit was confirmed on Tuesday and, having played three games for parent club PAOK earlier in January, Daniel Farke made the bold move to pitch his new man straight into Championship battle.
It may have been slightly harsh on Jacob Sorensen after the Dane’s excellent job as cover in recent months but Giannoulis is a player the Canaries have committed to signing for around £6million if they can seal promotion - so on this occasion Farke wasn’t looking to ease a new player into action.
Nerves may well have gotten the better of the 25-year-old during the early stages though, as a seriously cold wind whipped around Carrow Road and some strong Boro players closed him down frantically. It was an intense welcome to England.
The irrepressible and wily Neil Warnock had set his team up in a 4-5-1 formation designed to man-mark, with Djed Spence the winger sticking to Giannoulis like glue, just as Marvin Johnson was with Max Aarons on the right. Full-backs Darnell Fisher and Marc Bola tracked Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia all over the pitch, regardless of how far out of position that dragged them – as they worked to thwart the leaders’ attacking threats, successfully.
For Giannoulis it started in the second minute by controlling a Lukas Rupp pass on his chest in the Boro half, only to give the ball straight to Yanic Bolasie, with Ben Gibson stepping in to win back possession.
In the third minute skipper Grant Hanley had to charge across to halt Spence after he had robbed the loanee easily. The Scot subsequently played a long ball which Giannoulis could only manage to prod straight to the visiting keeper.
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- 3 Paddy Davitt: Player ratings after Canaries' 3-1 Bournemouth defeat
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- 5 WATCH: Delighted Delia Smith leads Canaries fans in Emi Buendia sing song
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He looked shaken but still Farke urged him to press forward and attack. Finally a foothold though, as it looked like Spence had beaten him, only for the Greek to get a foot in and win the ball, with Rupp swiftly on the scene to help clear the danger.
Wearing squad number 30 and standing at a similar height to Ben Gibson, at just over six foot, he looked to be an aerial asset in both boxes and looped a header wide from a Buendia free-kick in the 12th minute, although the ball seemed to come off the back of his head as he grappled in the air.
In fact, the Greek won more aerial duels than anyone on the pitch, tied with team-mate Olly Skipp with six successes in the air.
He blocked a Spence cross behind for a corner but also wasted a good attacking position as his pass failed to find Mario Vrancic and was also robbed by Fisher – in a hectic opening 25 minutes of his debut.
The man who was helping PAOK beat Besiktas and Benfica in Champions League qualifying at the start of the season was settling down though, fighting with Teemu Pukki to keep an attack alive after another Buendia free-kick that he’d challenged for in the air and also winning back possession from Spence just before the break.
Less experienced players may have wilted under the pressure but, in spite of Buendia being sent off in the 67th minute, Giannoulis improved noticeably in the second half.
He charged into the left channel in the 56th minute and was found by Buendia, allowing him to square to Rupp, whose shot was deflected behind for a corner. The set-piece was taken quickly and Giannoulis got to Buendia’s low cross first but could only flick an awkward shot over the crossbar.
Soon after Dael Fry made a crucial interception as the left-back's cross crept towards Pukki in the Boro box and on the hour-mark some attacking flair emerged, dropping a shoulder and leaving Spence for dust to pass infield, only for Vrancic and Cantwell to waste shooting opportunities.
He was lucky to avoid the first booking of his City career in the 62nd minute, dragging Bola down after Buendia had lost possession on halfway, but it was a necessary foul to concede for his team.
He used his height again in the 73rd minute, flicking a Tim Krul kick on to Pukki, who played substitute Przemek Placheta into the box, only for the Pole to drag a low shot wide of the far post.
Placheta played Giannoulis into the box 10 minutes later but his cross was too high for Pukki as it flashed across the face of goal.
A fine charge forward wasn’t spotted by Pukki soon after but the latter stages were mostly City clinging on, with Howson winning a corner off Giannoulis in the fifth minute of added time but the new boy standing firm to halt Spence soon after, as the leaders’ 10 men held on for a goalless draw against play-off chasing opposition.
VERDICT: Worrying opening 25 minutes gave way to a more encouraging display during a really tough game, particularly with City having to work so hard after Buendia was dismissed. Only Hanley (111) had more touches than Giannoulis and Gibson (77) so overall this could well prove a very useful introduction to English football for a player who looks to have the physicality required if he can find his rhythm fully.
RATING: 6 out of 10