Norwich City 3 Cardiff City 2
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Norwich City boss Alex Neil got off to a winning start at Carrow Road but the Canaries were made to earn a 3-2 Championship win over Cardiff City.
The hosts romped into a 3-0 first half lead with Gary Hooper, Kyle Lafferty and Cameron Jerome on target in a vibrant outing that also saw John Ruddy deny Peter Whittingham from the penalty spot, but the Canaries paid heavily for two lapses of concentration as the visitors scored twice in three minutes after the interval.
Alex Revell poked Whittingham’s cross past Ruddy before second half substitute Kadeem Harris profited from Revell’s knockdown to set up a needlessly tense finish before Neil’s men prevailed.
Neil’s first Norwich line up brought three changes from the 2-1 Championship win against Bournemouth. Gary O’Neil came in for the suspended Jonny Howson with Lafferty getting a rare start for the injured Alex Tettey (groin).
The Scot also opted to tweak his backline with fit-again Carlos Cuellar partnering Michael Turner and skipper Russell Martin switching to right-back.
Cardiff included ex-City academy product Tom Adeyemi but David Marshall (ankle) and Anthony Pilkington (hamstring) missed out against their old club.
Cardiff tried to push Norwich back in the very early sparring but Hooper had the first shot of note which slammed against Ben Turner.
Hooper was then denied by Simon Moore’s excellent stop in the ninth minute after Michael Turner had picked out Martin Olsson’s overlapping run for Hooper to drill a low shot from 18 yards that was arrowing towards the bottom corner before Moore pushed it round his left-hand post.
Cardiff tested Ruddy in the 12th minute with the City keeper parrying Whittingham’s whipped free kick after O’Neil had hauled down Craig Noone.
The Canaries edged in front in the 15th minute and it was no surprise Hooper was the source with a far post point blank header despatching Jerome’s initial glancing flick from another inviting Redmond cross.
Bradley Johnson and Aron Gunnarsson were embroiled in a brief skirmish before referee Adcock restored order with a lecture for the Norwich midfielder as Neil forcibly made his point to the assistant.
Cardiff responded positively to the early setback with Sean Morrison’s header hacked clear inside the Norwich six-yard box after Ruddy had completely misjudged Gunnarsson’s corner.
Revell’s header then lacked the power to trouble the Canaries’ number one shortly after from a deep Noone cross.
Norwich raided again down the left with the impressive Olsson crossing for O’Neil to arrive perfectly on cue with a fearsome half-volley Moore acrobatically tipped over.
Neil’s men doubled their lead with a landmark strike for Lafferty, who controlled Martin’s ball to guide a curling right-footed effort past Moore via his left-hand post.
Cardiff were awarded a penalty in the aftermath during a frenetic spell when Le Fondre tumbled after hurdling Cuellar. The Canaries’ players were convinced referee Adcock had made the wrong call with Martin leading the protests but Ruddy brilliantly outwitted Whittingham to throw himself to his left to parry the spot kick.
Norwich were growing in confidence with each passing minute but Cardiff spurned a chance in the 41st minute on the first genuine occasion the hosts were picked off on the counter. Le Fondre freed the overlapping Malone but Revell skied over four yards out under pressure from the advancing Ruddy.
Lafferty’s vital sliding block to halt Malone typified the resolve of Neil’s men to preserve their lead at the interval.
Norwich made it three in first half stoppage time when Jerome slotted against his old club, but the close range volley owed everything to Martin’s slaloming run past two Cardiff defenders before John Brayford deflected his shot into the striker’s path.
Redmond harried Malone again on the restart with Norwich starting in the same positive vein but Jerome or Hooper were unable to keep up with the flyer when he cut the ball back across the six yard line.
Ruddy comfortably gathered Noone’s half-hearted effort at the opposite end with the Bluebirds lacking any real conviction in their attacking urges.
Johnson then overhit his intended pass for Jerome five yards out after Hooper had unpicked a weary visiting defence.
Redmond’s rising shot struck the frame of Moore’s goal and bounced back into play from another Hooper’s spot before Jerome glanced wide at the far post.
Ruddy bravely dived at Revell’s feet just past the hour mark but the Norwich keeper was left exposed when he volleyed Whittingham’s cross home seven yards out after nipping inside Olsson.
Things deteriorated further for the hosts when second-half substitute Harris poked Revell’s flick from Moore’s booming goal kick past the stranded Ruddy.
Hooper led the breakout with Cardiff now on the front foot before inviting Redmond forward to test Moore who parried behind. Jerome went down inside the box from the corner but referee Adcock was in no mood to award a second penalty in front of the Lower Barclay.
Neil made his first move in the 70th minute with Wes Hoolahan replacing Hooper against a backdrop of palpable anxiety around the stadium.
Lafferty rifled over from Hoolahan’s cross before making way for Murphy. Adeyemi’s powerful surge spelt danger until he poked wide from the edge of the area.
Johnson’s instinctive volley clipped Brayford and fell behind for a corner with Norwich looking to proactively settle the contest. Hoolahan then demanded the ball from O’Neil’s short corner to rifle a sweet shot that just cleared the angle of Moore’s left-hand upright.
Revell’s aerial prowess remained a constant danger with the goalscorer’s towering 80th minute header dropping a yard wide of Ruddy’s far post.
Murphy then hammered a free kick straight at Moore before Johnson’s thumping hit brushed the side netting as Norwich strived to avoid a bitter finale.
Adeyemi made way to appreciative applause in the 88th minute for Joe Ralls before Lewis Grabban was introduced for Jerome as Norwich successfully navigated the final nervy moments.
• Norwich City: Ruddy, Martin, Turner, Cuellar, Olsson, O’Neil, Johnson, Redmond, Hooper (Hoolahan 70), Lafferty (Murphy 73), Jerome (Grabban 89). Subs (not used): Rudd, Whittaker, Hooiveld, McGrandles.
• Booking: O’Neil (foul on Gunnarsson, 69)
• Goals: Hooper (15), Lafferty (25), Jerome (45)
• Cardiff City: Moore, Brayford, Malone (John 66), Morrison, Turner, Whittingham, Adeyemi (Ralls 88), Gunnarsson, Noone, Le Fondre (Harris 57), Revell. Subs (not used): Wilson, Fabio, Connolly, Macheda.
• Bookings: Le Fondre (foul on Hooper, 38); Adeyemi (foul on Murphy, 81); Noone (foul on O’Neil, 86)
• Goals: Revell (61), Harris (64)
• Added on time: 4 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire)
• Attendance: 25,995