Rotherham United 1 Norwich City 2: McLean and Godfrey send Canaries clear at the top
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The Premier League dream has moved a step closer to becoming a reality for Norwich City, after a hard fought 2-1 win at lowly Rotherham sent Daniel Farke’s team four points clear at the top of the Championship table.
Kenny McLean had fired the Canaries in front just before half-time, with his third goal in six games, only for Semi Ajayi to slot a quality equaliser early in the second half.
Ben Godfrey headed City back in front within five minutes and it proved to be enough to seal a sixth win on the spin and send City into a brilliant position ahead of the international break, with eight games remaining.
The big news arrived ahead of kick-off, with Sheffield United winning 1-0 at Leeds in the day’s early game at Elland Road, moving the Blades up to second and just a point behind the Canaries initially.
It was a difficult first half for the visitors though, against a team of giants looking to pump the ball long in blustery conditions, with Tom Trybull making a vital clearance in the box in the 10th minute after a Christoph Zimmermann defensive header had deflected unkindly.
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McLean was beaten too easily on the left two minutes later and was relieved to see striker Michael Smith head just over from a Joe Newell cross.
Millers keeper Marek Rodak made sure to punch any danger clear as the wind swirled but Norwich slowly gained control of proceedings
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Teemu Pukki just couldn;t poke in from close range as the ball bounced around the box in the 23rd minute after Rodak had parried an Onel Hernandez shot and Trybull couldn’t get any power on a header from a McLean corner soon after, which Rodak claimed.
The away end got excited in the 35th minute after a Buendia cross went behind and bounced into the netting behind the goal, with some fans thinking the ball had gone in at the other end.
But they were celebrating 10 minutes later, when Pukki dropped deep to flick a Trybull pass into the box, which McLean controlled on his chest with his back to goal and Rodak pressuring him, swivelling to hook in a right-footed volley from a tight angle to the right of the six-yard box to break the deadlock.
The City supporters were celebrating again two minutes into injury-time, after a long Tim Krul kick was taken on by the wind and Rodak misjudged the flight, clattering into his post, but it was the side-netting the ball had rippled – leaving the score at 1-0 to Norwich at the break.
The Canaries came out in good spirits and Pukki very nearly found Stiepermann at the back post after McLean had burst forward in the first minute of the second half.
Hernandez wasted a fine crossing opportunity on the counter and Billy Jones tested Krul with a curling effort at the other end, before the hosts drew level with a fine goal.
Newell delivered from the left and Ajayi swivelled just inside the area to open up a shooting chance before placing a lovely low shot into the bottom-right corner, giving Krul no chance, to equalise in the 52nd minute.
Norwich responded immediately, with Pukki poking just beyond the far post from an Aarons cross from the right, before reclaiming the lead in the 57th minute.
Aarons was again involved, winning a corner on the right, which McLean swung to the back post and Godfrey was there to power home a header – before roaring in celebration in front of the 2,600 travelling supporters.
An increasingly fraught encounter, featuring plenty of fouls, saw the noise crank up as the home fans called for every decision – regardless of how ridiculous the claim.
Ben Wiles drove a shot wide in the 74th minute for Rotherham after being found cleverly by Smith and at the other end, four minutes later, Emi Buendia bent a curling shot just wide of the top-right corner from 20 yards.
Pukki should have wrapped up the points in the 79th minute after being superbly set free by Stiepermann, only to scuff his shot slightly as he tried to place past Rodak into the bottom-left corner, with the keeper diving to his right to grasp the ball.
Hernandez fired into the Millers’ keeper’s arms two minutes later, after being sent clear on the left by Buendia and dancing his way into the box to open up a shot on his right foot.
Pukki was looking tired again as Hernandez did well to head a wayward Jamal Lewis pass into his path on the left in the 86th minute, opting to cross for Buendia rather than shoot and the Argentine attacker’s shot was blocked by Michael Ithiekwe 10 yards out, as he struggled to get the ball out of his feet.
Farke then started using his substitutes to break up play, as the Canaries held out for a hugely important three points, showing their character on a difficult day yet again, with Godfrey going close to a second deep into injury-time after McLean had broken free – to move five points clear of third-placed Leeds with eight games remaining.
Championship teams now have a two-week break due to international matches, with City returning to action with a televised game at Middlesbrough on Saturday, March 30, a 5.30pm kick-off.
NORWICH: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann (C), Godfrey, Lewis; Trybull, McLean; Buendia (Vrancic 90+2), Stiepermann, Hernandez (Klose 90+1); Pukki (Rhodes 90). Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Hanley, Leitner, Cantwell
Booked: Stiepermann (foul on Newell, 64), Aarons (time-wasting, 88)
Goals: McLean (45), Godfrey (57)
ROTHERHAM: Rodak; Vyner, Ihiekwe, Wood (C – Yates 83), Jones; Ajayi; Forde (Taylor 62), Crooks (Towell 62), Wiles, Newell; Smith. Unused subs: Price (GK), Palmer, Kayode
Booked: Ithiekwe (foul on Stiepermann, 17), Jones (foul on Buendia, 29)
Goals: Ajayi (52)
REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)
ATTENDANCE: 11,026 (2,615 away)
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