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Paddy Davitt, EDP Sports Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Norwich City remain a work in progress but there was some positive signs in the majestic surroundings of Celtic Park that Chris Hughton is beginning to leave his mark on this Canaries’ squad.
City improved markedly from their opening stroll against Hertha Berlin in a competitive work out against the Champions League hopefuls – capped by Grant Holt’s opening goal of the new campaign in the final seconds.
James Vaughan again impressed after his two-goal burst against the Germans with City looking slick at times on the counter and solid in defence. Jonny Howson was deployed in a lone defensive midfield role after the interval to allow Andrew Surman and Wes Hoolahan to combine in a creative central midfield pairing that hinted at plenty of future promise. Howson was even able to leave his post for the game’s decisive act in the final minute of normal time when Fraser Forster could only block his drive to the feet of former team mate Holt who rifled home from close range.
Steven Whittaker’s early injury withdrawal was one of the few lows on a night when Hughton again opted to utilise the depth of his playing resources. Steve Morison made his first appearance of the pre-season campaign after sitting out the Austrian friendly with an ankle problem. Whittaker also started on his first return to Glasgow since a summer move from Celtic’s bitter cross-city rivals Rangers. Dani Ayala and Mark Tierney also retained their place after a 45-minute cameo against the Germans.
Johan Mjallby – in charge of the SPL champions with Neil Lennon away in Iceland scouting next week’s potential Champions League opponents – made nine changes from the team hammered 4-0 against Ajax on Saturday. Celtic’s famous pre-match huddle turned the volume up a considerable number of decibels amongst the Parkhead faithful ahead of the first home outing of the summer. City skipper Elliott Ward underlined his intent with a muscular aerial challenge on Daryl Murphy inside the opening seconds before ex-Gers defender Whittaker’s first introduction brought a predictably derisory response. City were forced to keep their defensive shape as the hosts’ bossed possession with Paddy McCourt setting the tempo in central midfield.
Morison sprung a swift counter for Vaughan but Mikael Lustig managed to harass the City frontman to concede a corner that Georgios Samaras cleared with ease. Vaughan’s desire to run the channels helped Hughton’s men gradually escape Celtic’s suffocating start to the contest. The ex-Evertonian triggered another counter with an energetic burst the precursor to a sweeping crossfield move that freed the overlapping Elliott Bennett, but Vaughan was unable to rise high enough to re-direct his far post cross.
Room mates Vaughan and Anthony Pilkington were not on the same wavelength just past the 15 minute mark when Morison’s clearing header raised the prospect of another genuine counter but Pilkington over-clubbed his intended pass for the City number eight.
Whittaker’s persistence almost paid dividends when he chased a lost cause deep into enemy territory for Morison to whip across the six yard box but Dylan McGeouch tracked back to frustrate Pilkington who looked set for a simple slot.
Whittaker needed running repairs following his lunging retrieval work; the cue for an early drinks break and Hughton to impart some detailed instructions to skipper Ward. City’s summer signing headed for the exit as a precaution with the catcalls ringing in his ears. Russell Martin entered the fray but not before Kris Commons had rattled John Ruddy’s bar from range before Lustig’s glancing near post header also clipped woodwork in a penetrative burst from Celtic.
Morison’s intelligent first time cushioned pass freed Pilkington to drill at Lucasz Zaluska guarding his near post. McCourt continued to be the source of present danger for the Bhoys, but Tierney was alert to sound the alarm when Murphy attempted to latch onto the Irishman’s throughball on the half hour mark.
Bradley Johnson took the sting out of Filip Twardzik’s drive to allow Ruddy the chance to parry around his post with Celtic regaining a measure of their initial control. Andrew Crofts threw up a hand in apology after being robbed by McGeouch who sprung Samaras but Ward did enough to force the Greek to try an impudent chip from an narrowing angle that drifted a yard wide of Ruddy’s far post.
Vaughan’s tangle with Zaluska in attempting to divert Tierney’s inviting high centre saw the Polish keeper forced off after suffering a head wound – Forster making his entrance to warm applause from both sets of fans.
Russell Martin emerged for the second period with nine new outfield colleagues. Howson patrolling in front of the back four with Chris Martin and Simeon Jackson supporting Holt. Chris Martin’s skimmed a header over following an impressively composed period of possession from the Canaries with Hoolahan and Surman key to the smooth rhythms – the City striker then tried to mimic Danny Welbeck’s Euro 2012 finish with a cute back heel that Forster kicked away.
Samaras raced away onto Commons’ defence-splitting pass on 64 minutes but his lift over Ruddy nestled on top of the goal. Celtic’s quartet of changes ahead of the final quarter took a degree of intensity out of a competitive test hitherto for Hughton’s men. Ryan Bennett had to cut out Twardzik’s probing cross with Gary Hooper sensing an immediate opportunity following his late introduction.
Ruddy was momentarily worried when Mohamed Bangura’s swivelling effort skipped away, but thankfully the right side of the City’s number one’s left-hand post. Both sides looked intent on playing out time but Forster almost inadvertently gifted his old employers a winner when he flapped at Jackson’s long range effort. Forster was less fortunate in the final minute when he could only divert Howson’s drive into Holt’s path.
• Norwich (first half line up): Ruddy, Whittaker (R Martin 24), Ayala, Ward, Tierney, E Bennett, Crofts, Johnson, Pilkington, Morison, Vaughan.
• Norwich (second half line up): Ruddy, R Martin, Barnett, R Bennett, Lappin, Howson, Surman, Hoolahan, C Martin, Holt, Jackson
•Goal: Holt (89)
•Celtic: Zaluska (Forster 45), Lustig, Rogne, Wilson (Wanyama 35), Izaguirre, McGeouch (Forrest 61), McCourt, Twardzik, Samaras (Matthews 69), Commons (Bangura 69), Murphy (Hooper 60). Subs: all used.
• Referee: Callum Murray