West Brom 2, Norwich City 0
JONATHAN REDHEAD Norwich City’s season took yet another turn for the worse as they slumped to another disappointing away defeat that leaves them bottom of the league. Goals from Ishmael Miller and Kevin Phillips, one in each half, condemned the Canaries to a seventh defeat in eight games and a miserable return of one point from 24 ahead of next weekend’s derby with Ipswich.
Norwich City's season took yet another turn for the worse as they slumped to another disappointing away defeat, this time in the Black Country. Goals from Ishmael Miller and Kevin Phillips, one in each half, condemned the Canaries to a seventh defeat in eight games and a miserable return of one point from 24 ahead of next weekend's derby with Ipswich Town. And following Queen's Park Rangers' win at Charlton Athletic City are now firmly bottom of the league after this latest morale sapping defeat.
The visitors were never at the races against the Baggies and the final score could in fact have been far worse as the City defence was torn apart by the strike force of Phillips and Miller.
Norwich city caretaker boss Jim Duffy made three changes to the City side for what was likely to be his last game in charge.
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On-loan midfielder Jimmy Smith came into the side at the expense of Luke Chadwick and there were two changes up front with Jamie Cureton and Chris Martin starting in place of David Strihavka and Chris Brown who was suffering with flu. Goalkeeper Matthew Gilks returned to the substitutes' bench after suffering tendonitis in his knee.
Meanwhile Baggies boss Tony Mowbray made just one change to the West Brom that beat Blackpool 2-1 at the Hawthorns on Tuesday night. Midfielder Robert Koren came back into the side in place of Felipe Teixeira. Mowbray did however decide he did not need a goalkeeper on the subs bench opting instead for the returning Craig Beattie ahead of a stopper.
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City suffered a blow before the kick-off when Queens Park Rangers registered a 1-0 victory away at Charlton Athletic. The result meant City started the game against the side with the best home record in the division, rock bottom of the Coca Cola Championship.
Once the action did get underway at the Hawthorns, City won a corner inside the first minute. Simon Lappin's delivery to the near post was good but goalkeeper Dean Kiely punched the ball to safety.
West Brom broke up field and fashioned an excellent chance for skipper Jonathan Greening. He shifted the ball on to his right foot but his powerful shot from 10 yards was blocked and Ishmael Miller's rebound effort was deflected out for a corner. From the flag-kick, Martin Albrechtsen's header was easily gathered by David Marshall.
The powerful Miller thought he should have had a free-kick on the edge of the box at the home side piled on the pressure.
Miller was a threat again in the fifth minute as he found himself through in the inside-left channel but he fired wildly over from a narrow angle.
City were struggling for a foothold in the game and on six minutes Greening tried his luck again, this time with a left-foot shot from 25 yards which flew over Marshall's goal.
City could not get out of their half and Miller won another Albion corner. It was taken short but James Morrison cruising cross was deflected into Marshall's arms.
A few minutes later Marshall did excellently to tip over Kevin Phillips' powerful drive from 25 yards. It was one-way traffic and on 14 minutes Marshall had to be alert to hold on to Miller's low left-foot shot.
Just two minutes later the inevitable happened as City's defence was finally breached. From yet another corner Greening delivered deep to the far post where defender Cesar was on hand to head back across goal and the unmarked Miller headed into the roof of the net from six yards out to give the home side a deserved lead.
The goal clearly rocked City who were desperately struggling to keep possession over the halfway line. Jimmy Smith had hardly touched the ball in his first City start, while the front pairing of Cureton and Martin were receiving almost no service. Darren Huckerby playing wide left, and Darel Russell on the right were virtually anonymous as West Brom attacked in waves.
The home side were keen to make their pressure tell and from Miller's pass, Phillips found himself with a clear run on goal. But the former England international elected to try to bend the ball from the edge of the box and only succeeded in firing over.
At the other end there was a brief respite for City with an attacking throw however Lappin's cross deep to the far post trickled out for a goal-kick with no City player within 15 yards of the ball.
City's overworked back line received another severe test on 22 minutes as a superb flick from Phillips let in Koren on the right edge of the box. City skipper Jason Shackell came to his side's rescue with an excellent clearance from Koren's low cross and City managed to scramble the corner to safety.
On 26 minutes the home side pressed forward again and this time it was Chris Brunt who cut in from the right-hand side but fired wide with his left foot from the edge of the box.
On 33 minutes City almost went further behind as they failed to defend properly from another corner and Robinson's deflected header was cleared off the line by Russell.
Moments later at the other end City almost claimed a fortuitous equaliser when Huckerby charged down Kiely's clearance but the ball looped back safely into the grateful keeper's arms.
Two minutes later Shackell was City's saviour once again as his superb late challenge prevented Phillips scoring what looked like a certain goal from eight-yards out. From the resulting corner Phillips got his head to the ball at the near post but his deft flick was cleared on the post by the waiting Jon Otsemobor as City managed to cling on.
Still the Baggies forced forward as City looked overwhelmed and Koren fed Miller in his familiar inside-left position, but again the young striker lashed the ball over.
Next to try his luck was Morrison and he too fired over, this time from 25 yards.
Against the run of play City finally managed an attempt on goal as Spillane twisted and turned on the edge of the Albion box before his powerful shot was deflected out for a corner.
From the short-corner Huckerby tried to force his way to the by-line but Albion defenders managed to see him off for a goal-kick.
Suddenly City were starting to work their way into the game and the battling Spillane forced a free-kick near to the home side's corner flag. Lappin's kick was headed clear for a corner, which was cleverly pulled back to the edge of the box where Ian Murray was waiting. But the defender could not control his side-foot effort and it flew wide.
Another Albion attack forced a corner, but referee Phil Joslin blew for half-time before the kick could be taken.
It was a relief for City who would have been happy to go into the dressing room after Marshall's goal was peppered by 13 Albion shots while there were also numerous blocks.
City started the second half with the same set of players although their formation appeared to have changed slightly with Cureton moving to the right, Huckerby to the left and Martin in the centre of a three-pronged attack.
But it was Albion who had the first attack as Hoefkens' low cross was missed by Murray but Phillips was unable to turn and shoot.
On 47 minutes Spillane was the first man to be booked after an aerial tangle with Koren.
Two minutes later City came close to an equaliser. Cureton's first low cross from the right was cleared but when the ball came back to him his second cross was desperately cleared from under his own bar by Albrechtsen for a corner. From the flag-kick the ball came to Huckerby on the edge of the box but he screwed his left-foot shot wide of the goal.
However it proved to be a false dawn for City at just seconds later the Baggies doubled their lead. Miller broke free down the left and his cross was headed in at the far post by the stooping Phillips only a few yards out.
It almost got worse for City a minute later as Miller won a header from a Greening corner but it was cleared off the line by Lappin with Marshall well-beaten.
City's frustration seemed to boil over and Ian Murray was booked for a crude late challenge on Phillips near the halfway line.
To their credit City looked for a way back into the game and from Huckerby's run and pass Martin's goal-bound shot from the edge of the box was blocked for a corner. Then, after the corner was cleared, Smith headed well wide from Lappin's excellent, deep cross.
Things nearly got worse for City at the other end as Phillips broke through and rounded Marshall to score, however, the offside flag had gone up much to his dismay.
On 60 minutes Baggies boss Mowbray made his first changes with Gera and Teixeira coming on for Brunt and Morrison.
Gera's first touch was an excellent header to Miller who rolled Murray but his weak shot was easily saved by Marshall.
Cureton then registered his first shot of a frustrating afternoon, as he ran on to Smith's flicked header but fired straight at Kiely.
West Brom continued on the offensive and on 64 minutes they won a free-kick some 30-yards out in the dead centre of the goal. It was wasted when Miller's vicious low shot went straight into the wall.
He was frustrated again moments later when he was flagged offside as he threatened to run clean through.
The game appeared effectively over as a contest as Albion seemed content to maintain possession and City seemed to have little or no fire power up front.
The home side did create arguably the chance of the game on 73 minutes after a flowing, passing move. The ball ended up at the feet of Phillips and he jinked past Shackell on the edge of the box but Marshall came to City's rescue as Phillips looked certain to tuck the ball away.
Duffy then made City's first substitution as Lee Croft was brought on to the right wing in place of Cureton on 75 minutes while West Brom made their final change as Craig Beattie replaced the excellent Miller.
Croft was swiftly into action as he chased a long ball from Russell and shrugged off the attentions of Robinson before going to ground under a challenge from Kiely but the referee waved away his penalty claims.
City then made their second substitution in the 80th minute as Smith departed and Chadwick came on to play just behind Martin.
The pace of the game slowed down as it entered the final 10 minutes but Croft was the liveliest player on the pitch. Firstly his excellent cross was narrowly over the head of Huckerby, and then with four minutes remaining he sprinted half the length of the field, rounded Cesar but his curling cross was just too far ahead of Martin.
The home side looked for one final flourish but it was not needed as they cruised to a fully deserved victory. The Baggies now look forward to pushing for promotion while City began the long journey home from the Hawthorns dead last in the division and on current form facing something of a mountain to climb to get out of trouble.