Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Norwich City’s Premier League survival hopes suffered a major blow after losing 1-0 to relegation rivals West Brom at Carrow Road.
Baggies’ midfielder Morgan Amalfitano rifled home in the 16th minute to consign Chris Hughton’s side to a first Carrow Road home league defeat this year.
City did strike the woodwork twice in the space of two minutes around the hour mark through Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass but the Canaries only carried a sporadic threat.
Norwich’s home fans vented their frustration at the final whistle with a small pocket demanding Hughton’s departure on a fractious afternoon.
Hughton made two changes to the starting line up that lost 3-0 at Swansea City. Joseph Yobo was passed fit after missing the trip to the Liberty Stadium with a calf injury to resume his partnership with Seb Bassong. Ryan Bennett dropped out of the match day squad and there was no place either for the fit-again Michael Turner.
Hooper returned up front in place of Ricky van Wolfswinkel with Johan Elmander offering chief support.
Albion boss Pepe Mel brought Jonas Olsson back in after his two-game suspension, but Saido Berahino was kept on the substitutes’ bench after the fallout from his costly error in the Baggies’ 3-3 Premier League draw against Cardiff at the Hawthorns last weekend.
Albion had an early scare when Gareth McAuley’s weak touch momentarily interested Hooper but Ben Foster was sweeping up on the edge of his penalty area. Wes Hoolahan was then hauled down 20 yards out but Snodgrass’ free kick was dragged behind the stretching Elmander.
Alex Tettey tried to reprise his wonder strike against Sunderland last time out at Carrow Road but a bouncing half-volley flew into the Lower Barclay.
Graham Dorrans tested John Ruddy at the opposite end, but the England keeper gathered low at his right-hand post. Amalfitano then struck Ruddy’s side netting with an angled strike after excellent movement from Stephane Sessegnon to lose Yobo.
Hooper and Jonny Howson worked a decent opening on the edge of the Albion area in the 10th minute but Hoolahan’s lifted chip was easily cleared by Jonas Olsson. Hooper’s speculative effort clipped Jonas Olsson shortly after but spiralled towards Foster.
Elmander blazed over seconds later after Snodgrass had squared for the unmarked Swede 18 yards out. That proved a costly mistake when Amalfitano capitalised on Martin Olsson’s slip to rifle through Bassong’s legs and into Ruddy’s bottom right-hand corner from 20 yards.
City’s immediate work in the aftermath was laboured and lacking in any confidence. Albion could have extended their lead when Jonas Olsson rose above both Norwich centre backs but was just unable to get a touch on Dorrans’ teasing free kick six yards out.
Howson surged onto Snodgrass’ cross but slipped in trying to test Foster from 25 yards. The Scot then lined up James Morrison before standing up a cross Steven Reid headed behind under pressure from Russell Martin.
Ruddy denied Matej Vydra after Hoolahan’s wayward pass sprang a swift visiting counter. Martin’s overlapping run produced a low cross that was arrowing towards Hooper, but the diving Jonas Olsson managed to intervene at his near post.
Ruddy gathered Dorrans’ swinging hit at the second attempt with Albion continuing to look threatening from quick turnovers.
Foster was belatedly pressed into action six minutes from the interval to claw out Elmander’s diving header from Hooper’s initial flick.
Tettey earned the first caution of the game for a crude lunge to halt Sessegnon, but Reid’s free kick slammed the home wall. The Norwegian’s errant pass intended for Bassong shortly after rolled over his own goal line for a corner which triggered a chorus of home disapproval, but Hooper cleared at the near post to trigger a flowing move that ended with Snodgrass’ curling effort collected by Foster.
Hughton opted to retain the same starting line up during at the interval and Elmander was a yard from connecting with Hoolahan’s drifted cross eight yards out.
Tettey, however, had to make a desperate clearance after Hoolahan was again caught in possession to set Vydra free down the Albion left.
McAuley then threw himself in the way of Snodgrass’ hit from Elmander’s cross with the game already stretched inside the opening five minutes of the restart.
City struck the woodwork twice inside the space of two minutes just before the hour mark. Hooper slammed against the bar from seven yards out after Albion were unable to clear Snodgrass’ free kick before Tettey poked the ball into the striker’s path and Foster diverted the Scot’s follow up free kick onto the top of his bar.
Hoolahan made way for Nathan Redmond but it was Snodgrass on the opposite flank who burst through again in the 66th minute after exchanging passes with Hooper but the intended curler veered wide from 16 yards.
Luciano Becchio was then introduced for Elmander to a huge ovation with Albion pinned inside their own final third for the first time in the contest.
Mel turned to Berahino in a bid to stretch City and the England Under-21 starlet had a chance to cap an eventful week when he lined up Bassong but pulled a shot wide on his left foot.
City’s urgency around the hour mark had receded alarmingly with the changes as Albion dug in on the edge of their own area. Becchio’s header slid wide under pressure from Jonas Olsson but it was now only an intermittent sight of Foster’s goal.
Berahino was only denied by Ruddy deep in stoppage time with a sharp near post stop as the home fans headed towards the exits before those who remained made their feelings known on the final whistle.
• Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson (Gutierrez 80), Snodgrass, Howson, Tettey, Hoolahan (Redmond 64), Elmander (Becchio 70), Hooper. Subs (not used): Bunn, Whittaker, Johnson, van Wolfswinkel.
• Booking: Tettey (foul on Sessegnon, 44)
• West Brom: Foster, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Amalfitano, Morrison, Mulumbu, Dorrans (Gera 77, O’Neil 83), Sessegnon, Vydra (Berahino 70). Subs (not used): Myhill, Thievy, Dawson, Anichebe.
• Goal: Amalfitano (16)
• Added on time: 3 minutes / 4 minutes
• Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Durham)
• Attendance: 26,859