Norwich 0, Wolves 1
CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City 0, Wolves 1: Norwich City somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they slumped to an embarrassing defeat against Wolves. Wolves ended with only nine men – but that was only half the story of a game which City dominated for long spells without managing to find a way past keeper Matt Murray.
Norwich City 0 Wolves 1
Norwich City somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they slumped to an embarrassing defeat against Wolves.
Wolves ended with only nine men - but that was only half the story of a game which City dominated for long spells without managing to find a way past keeper Matt Murray.
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Chance upon chance went begging as City threw everything bar the kitchen sink at Wolves - and come the final whistle their efforts only served, yet again, to illustrate just how important the absence of Robert Earnshaw is going to be in the closing stages of the Championship season.
In the end it took a goal early in the second half by Michael Kightly to settle the issue - and leave City just four points clear of Queens Park Rangers who occupy the last relegation spot, and after one win in nine games, no one can be looking forward to Saturday's visit of Leeds with any optimism.
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City boss Peter Grant was without inspirational defender-come-striker Dion Dublin, who failed to recover from an ankle injury sustained at Blackpool on Saturday. But Jason Shackell, who has not trained for three weeks because of a similar problem, was back alongside Gary Doherty in the heart of defence.
With no Dublin, no Chris Brown and no Robert Earnshaw, Peter Thorne was given only his fourth Championship start of the season, leading the attack, with support from Darren Huckerby.
Grant tried to nullify the threat of Wolves wide man Kightly by operating the increasingly versatile Carl Robinson on the left of a four-man midfield.
But clearly goalscoring was going to be a problem - although City had a string of quality chances almost from the start.
Croft had an immediate opportunity to worry the visiting defence, but his cross from the right went behind Thorne.
But it didn't take long for the first talking point of the game, with Huckerby breaking down the left after Youssef Safri's long boot out of defence. The winger had only Jackie McNamara to pass as he made his way forward, but the defender stopped him in his tracks. City players and fans appealed for the red card - but referee Nigel Miller produced only a yellow.
It was a lucky escape for Wolves - as was the resulting free-kick by Safri which keeper Matt Murray just about got enough on to grab at the second attempt.
Safri was again in the thick of it on 12 minutes when he robbed Darren Potter but as he set up Huckerby was fouled by Gary Breen - referee Miller pulling play back as Huckerby lost possession.
Wolves striker Andy Keogh fouled Huckerby just outside the area and when Safri sent the free kick in, Etuhu headed well wide of the target.
It was an encouraging start by City, their cause helped by Wolves' early propensity for giving fouls - and possession - away around their own penalty area.
City almost took advantage of one lax moment, which earned a corner from which Adam Drury got a good low shot on target and then Murray reacted well to prevent Robinson from25 yards.
Murray had no time to relax as another Huckerby run to the byline saw Thorne get his toe to a low near post ball.
But that was nothing compared to the save he made from Huckerby, who lashed in Colin's cross from the right only to see the big stopper launch himself to the right to brilliantly claw the ball away.
Huckerby was running the show for City, ably assisted by the impressive Thorne - but once again there was the nagging fear that City would sooner or later pay for not turning chance into goals.
However the first 30 minutes were reminiscent of the first half against Cardiff when City ended the then leaders' 14-game unbeaten run. Wolves didn't have that sort of target for City to aim for, but points rather than kudos was the order of the day.
Wolves' efforts were restricted to shots from outside the area, which Shackell seemed to attract like a magnet - and then clear.
It was Croft who suffered the most embarrassing moment of the night on the half-hour mark - lashing the rebound wide of a gaping goal after Huckerby's shot had hit Breen.
Thorne was rather less guilty of wasting another chance when he headed Drury's cross over from six yards while Huckerby teased Neil Collins and Mark Little before firing straight at Murray.
Murray came to Wolves' rescue yet again when after good work between Thorne and Huckerby, the ball reached Etuhu who had made up acres to get into the box. Etuhu's touch from Huckerby's cross was good, but the save was even better.
Kightly showed the danger of missing chances when he had one of his own, but shot weakly when in a good position.
But by half-time Norwich should have racked up a cricket score: the big question was would City be able to maintain the momentum, with goals, after the break?
They had to do it without Shackell, who failed to reappear after picking up a knock at the end of the first half, with Robinson dropping back to the role he ended up playing in Saturday's FA Cup clash at Blackpool.
Kightly and Keogh had an early chance, the latter hitting the side-netting, but it all came undone for Norwich on 53 minutes when Karl Henry's shot came back off a post and Kightly followed up and did what Croft should have done - put the ball in the back of the net.
It was a huge blow for City, but within a couple of minutes their chances had improved when Huckerby chased down a through ball after Etuhu had blocked a clearance but, with only the keeper in his path, Breen lunged at his ankles right on the edge of the area - the former Republic of Ireland defender didn't even wait around for the red card.
Inevitably the sending off spurred City on, but the question was the same - could they score?
When Huckerby went through on the hour mark you would have said yes, but a defender's boot ended that hope.
City were camped in Wolves territory - but City keeper David Marshall was a relieved man when a poor back pass by Doherty had him in trouble and he kicked the ball straight at Keogh, who then took a dramatic tumble. The referee gave nothing - but it was either a dive by Keogh or a foul by Marshall.
Wolves were gradually stemming the tide, packing their defence, and Grant acted quickly, taking half-time sub Hughes off and giving a debut to 17-year-old striker Chris Martin - although Hughes look less than pleased with the decision.
With 10 minutes to go the Carrow Road faithful were becoming increasingly frustrated as City struggled to make the breakthrough - and the preference for short corners didn't help their mood.
Martin brought a cheer from the crowd with a clever turn on the edge of the area - but a shot that was wide. It upped the tempo and at times it was like pinball in the Wolves penalty area - and when McNamara finally went on 89 minutes for his second yellow after fouling Croft, and the fourth official signalled five minutes of time added on, a grand finale was on.
All it needed was a goal - and although Jurgen Colin, of all people, shot inches wide, City couldn't supply it.
Norwich: Marshall 6, Colin 7, Doherty 6, Shackell 6 (Hughes 5, 45, Martin, 6, 76), Drury 8, Robinson 7, Safri 7, Etuhu 7, Croft 6, Thorne 7, Huckerby 8. Subs: Gallacher, McVeigh, Ryan Jarvis.
Wolves: Murray, Little, Collins, Breen, McNamara, Kightly, Potter (Ward 73), Henry, Olofinjana, McIndoe (Edwards 57), Keogh (Bothroyd 81). Subs: Budtz, Mark Davies.
Referee: Nigel Miller.
Man of the match: Adam Drury: excellent all down the left flank.
Time added on: 1 min/ 5 mins.
Attempts on target: Norwich 11, Wolves 1.
Attempts off target: Norwich 6, Wolves 4.
Fouls committed: Norwich 9, Wolves 9.
Corners: Norwich 7, Wolves 2.
Offsides: Norwich 6, Wolves 3.
Bookings: Norwich: Drury, 85, foul on Kightly. Wolves: Potter, 66, foul on Drury.
Sendings off: Breen, 54, foul on Huckerby; McNamara, 3, foul on Huckerby; 89, foul on Croft.