Supersub strikes to give Canaries a win
RICK WAGHORN Norwich City 2, Stoke City 1: An 89th minute strike from on-loan Charlton striker Jonatan Johansson settled a tight and tense encounter at Carrow Road this afternoon with more eyes on events off the pitch than on it. Because in all fairness the game itself offered precious little by way of entertainment, albeit it ended with three points in the bag after City’s narrow 2-1 win.
Norwich City 2, Stoke City 1
An 89th minute strike from on-loan Charlton striker Jonatan Johansson settled a tight and tense encounter at Carrow Road this afternoon with more eyes on events off the pitch than on it. Because in all fairness the game itself offered precious little by way of entertainment, albeit it ended with three points in the bag after City's narrow 2-1 win.
Instead, of course, the game was overshadowed by the whole furore over the future of manger Nigel Worthington - a debate that shows little or no sign of abating following today's game. While many will return home tonight, with their thoughts already turning towards the summer break, for others, today's victory will only put off their next call for the manager's head for another week or so.
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At least the luckless Leon McKenzie had something to smile about after his first start in the better part of six month yielded his first goal since his recent ankle troubles, only for his fine strike to be wiped out within five minutes by a soft goal from Stoke's Paul Gallagher.
Come the final five minutes, however, and it was high drama as Canary keeper Robert Green pulled off a sensational stop to deny Stoke a likely winner and spare Worthington yet more indignity as the Canaries raced up to the other end of the pitch where Johansson bagged the winner with virtually his first touch of the ball.
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All eyes now switched to Elland Road next Saturday where another Crystal Palace-style no show will merely keep the manager out fires burning.
As promised, Norwich City boss Nigel Worthington rang the changes for this afternoon's home clash against Stoke City with four changes to the side that lost in such disastrous fashion at Crystal Palace last weekend.
One change was wholly enforced in the shape of Adam Drury's one-match ban which saw Simon Charlton return at left back. Otherwise it was form - or rather the lack of it - that dictated the arrival of Paul McVeigh, Leon McKenzie and Jason Shackell into the Canary starting line-up with Peter Thorne, Jonatan Johansson and Zesh Rehman the ones to miss out.
In fairness to the club's long-suffering supporters, the team was greeted with a warm round of applause - despite a pre-match protest of some 400 strong that were calling once again for the manager's swift exit.
There was also a warm welcome back for Potters' midfielder Darel Russell who returned to the Stoke starting line-up for today's game.
McKenzie was swift to make an early impression on his first start with a surging run through midfield that ended with a scuffed shot well wide of the target with an overlapping Huckerby screaming for the ball away on the left.
With the Canaries stringing the odd half-decent move together, the home side simply needed the ball to run in their favour where it mattered - in the Potters' box. For now, however, that little slice of luck was missing as Huckerby, Earnshaw, McKenzie and McVeigh clicked fitfully into life.
The game, did however, possess all the 'quality' of a typical end-of-season clash between two teams locked firmly in a battle for 10th or 12th place. Indeed it summed up the general mood when the biggest cheer of the afternoon greeted Stoke striker Paul Gallagher when he met a rare Potters attack with a thumping 20-yard volley that flew completely over the Norwich and Peterborough Stand - no mean feat from a couple of yards outside the Norwich box.
As the first half drew to a close so McVeigh would drill a 22-yard effort well wide, while Huckerby would wriggle his way into the corner of the Potters' penalty area only to fall over far too dramatically for referee Crossley's liking as full-back Lewis Buxton clattered into him.
It had hardly been edge-of-your-seat stuff with Norwich's new-look back line largely holding all comers at bay - it was just further forward where Norwich were struggling to carve anything by way of clear cut opportunities. In short, it was not one of those games that would linger for too long in the memory.
The half-time break brought memories of some golden times flooding back as an all star cast from the club's Hall of Fame was introduced to the crowd. Among the luminaries taking their bow were such legends as Duncan Forbes, Dale Gordon, Kevin Drinkell, David Cross and Bryan Gunn. It was left to the Barclay End to make the point by chanting “Sign them up! Sign them up!” as the players embarked on a well deserved lap of honour.
As for the game itself it meandered along on its traditional way with the Canaries looking relatively comfortable in defence but struggling to provide either Earnshaw or McKenzie with any real decent service.
In the 52nd minute Norwich finally got the break they just about deserved and no one deserved that break more that McKenzie. Picking the ball up in the inside-right channel, the luckless Canary striker turned first one way to out wit Marlon Broomes before then checking back in again to wholly wrong foot the covering Hill and, with the space now opening up in front of him, so McKenzie smashed a fine, left foot drive inside Steve Simonsen's left-hand post to drill Norwich ahead.
Given all the trials and tribulations McKenzie has suffered on and off the pitch this season, his goal sparked heartfelt celebrations across Carrow Road as the player himself gleefully headed towards the far corner flag to begin his celebrations.
Moments later and with confidence clearly back flowing through his veins, McKenzie embarked on another mazy run, only to fall at the third red-and-white shirt and crumple into what looked like an injured heap. Fortunately with a little help from Canary physio Neal Reynolds, McKenzie was able to continue to the relief of all concerned.
Norwich's lead, however, lasted little more than five minutes as Stoke squeezed home a leveller.
Doherty was adjudged to have fouled Sanbegou Bangoura on the edge of the Canary box and after much delay as the Canary wall sorted itself out, Gallagher produced a low bobbly shot that Green could only palm onto the inside of his left-hand upright and watch, alongside Simon Charlton as the ball trickled in off the post. It was one of those classic soft Norwich goals that have come to bedevil the Canaries this season and left them once more with a mountain to climb.
In the 65th minute Huckerby almost produced one of his special moments as he sprinted in from the left-hand touchline and having left two defenders trailing, sent a low shot goalward which Simonsen could only push out one handed to his left. There Earnshaw waited but the angle was always going to be against him as he slammed his shot high into the side netting.
The game clearly needed another spark from somewhere, quite where it would come from was another matter.
McVeigh had Norwich's next opportunity when he sent a 72nd minute snapshot just wide of the right-hand post.
The game's first booking finally arrived in the 78th minute when Broomes hauled McKenzie down, as the Norwich striker twisted away from his marker on the edge of the City box.
From the resulting free-kick, Charlton drove a well struck left foot shot straight into Simonsen's waiting arms.
The first change of the afternoon arrived in the 80th minute when Peter Sweeney replaced goal scorer Gallagher.
With City desperately hoping for a late forage, the Canaries made their own switch in the 85th minute when Etuhu replaced Hughes who appeared to be hobbling as he headed away to the dressing rooms with a warm round of applause ringing in his ears.
Seconds later McVeigh forced Simonsen into a sharp save as he unleashed a dipping, 22-yard shot that Simonsen just tipped over the bar.
With three minutes of normal time remaining McKenzie departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by Johansson.
With the first "Worthy out!" starting to ring around Carrow Road, Norwich were acutely conscious of the fact that a late Stoke winner would merely add to the club's woes, all of which suddenly found Canary keeper Green taking centre stage as the Potters swung an 88th minute corner deep into the Norwich box where it was met with a thumping header from Bangoura which looked destined for the back of the net. He, like the rest of Carrow Road, had banked without a truly fabulous save from Green who stretched out a big right hand to claw the ball away. It was a fantastic save that wholly befitted a player with World Cup ambitions.
That scare merely prompted a further round of "Worthy out!" at which precise moment Norwich stole back into the lead courtesy of Johansson's virtual first touch of the ball. McVeigh slipped the ball through the inside-left channel for Johansson to calmly collect the ball and slip a fine shot beyond Simonsen.
It brought big emotional responses from several big characters at the heart of the current struggle within Carrow Road. Worthington punched his fist in the air as he raced 10-yards out of his dugout in the direction of his protractors in the Snake Pit, while Green too punched the air in delight - this time at the Stoke City fans gathered away to his left who had been gleefully joining in with the "Worthy Out!" chorus moments earlier.
Three, not-so-anxious minutes later and the Canaries were celebrating three big points which may, in the final course of events mean little more than the difference between ninth and 10th place.
What it means for the great "Worthy out!" debate, only time will tell.
t Norwich City: Green, Fleming, Shackell, Doherty, Charlton, McVeigh, Robinson, Hughes, Earnshaw, McKenzie, Huckerby. Subs: Johansson (for McKenzie), Etuhu (for Hughes). Subs not used: Gallacher, Henderson, Colin.
t Stoke City: Simonsen, Buxton, Hill, Duberry, Broomes, Russell, Mbuyi, Chadwick, Gallagher, Skoko, Bangoura. Subs: Sweeney (for Gallagher). Subss not used: de Goey, Kopteff, Wilkinson, Rooney.
t Referee: Phil Crossley (Kent). Taking charge of his first Norwich match since October 2004, when the Canaries drew 0-0 at West Brom in a Premiership fixture.