Brighton 1, Norwich City 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City were denied by a late thunderbolt from Brighton's Solly March at the Amex Stadium on Tuesday night in their first senior pre-season friendly on home soil.
City looked on course to ease to a win courtesy of Jonny Howson's excellent close range first half finish but England international Jonh Ruddy was beaten by a sublime 25-yard strike from the impressive Seagulls' substitute in the 83rd minute.
Chris Hughton's men should still have claimed the victory though when the unmarked Luciano Becchio planted a header wide at the far post from barely six yards in the final act of the contest.
Hughton blooded Gary Hooper for a second half debut following his arrival from Celtic, with the striker paired alongside Becchio after Ricky van Wolfswinkel had operated in a lone front-running role for the first hour.
The Dutch hitman was one of five starters retained from the club's USA tour finale in Portland. Elliott Bennett and Russell Martin faced their former club with Nathan Redmond also given a fresh chance to press his claims for a Premier League start ahead of Everton's visit on August 17. Van Wolfswinkel was supported by fellow Dutch international Leroy Fer in an advanced midfield role with Wes Hoolahan among a number of senior players given the night off.
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Ryan Bennett need all his positional sense to clear in front of Ruddy after the Seagulls' raided down Norwich's left-flank.
Norwich's coaching staff were less than impressed by Liam Bridcutt's scything challenge that caught Redmond waist-high, but the official settled for a word of admonishment for the midfielder. Van Wolfswinkel's flashing strike flew a couple of yards wide in the eighth minute in the first real sign of attacking intent from the visitors, but it was Howson who continued his impressive goal scoring form from the back end of last season when he ghosted in at the near post to divert Redmond's whipped cross past Tomasz Kuszczak in the 27th minute.
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Brighton attempted to hit back instantly with Bridcutt racing towards the far post but Ruddy was to able watch the ball fly well wide. Former City stalwart Andrew Crofts then tried a speculative long range effort that proved similarly wayward.
Redmond accepted the invitation to race towards the edge of the Brighton penalty area to test Kuszczak with a low strike the former Manchester United keeper could only parry. The England Under-21 starlet then squeezed his way between Dunk and Saltor but a rising strike drifted behind on the angle.
City earned a measure of good fortune a minute before the interval when Andrea Orlandi kicked fresh air with only Ruddy to beat six yards out after hesitation between Martin and Ryan Bennett.
Van Wolfswinkel went close within seconds of the restart when he fended off Dunk but dragged at the grounded Kuszczak from a tight angle. The Dutch frontman was then inches from connecting with Elliott Bennett's teasing cross inside the Seagulls' six-yard box after City had cut the hosts open.
City continued to dominate possession with Brighton making serial changes but the hosts' carried a sharp threat on the counter. Orlandi coaxed a free-kick from Steven Whittaker only for Ruddy to emerge through a crowd scene to gather confidently. Elliott Bennett then burst through the heart of the retreating Seagulls' rearguard but lifted over. That was the cue for Hughton to introduce Hooper in the 61st minute as van Wolfswinkel made way. City's newest recruit was joined by Becchio with Leroy Fer's exit sparking a revision to a midfield four that now included Jacob Butterfield. Ruddy was forced into meaningful action minutes later when he had to drop smartly to foil March at his near post.
Dani Ayala replaced compatriot Javier Garrido and the Spaniard's last ditch tackle prevented the lively March testing Ruddy again with Brighton noticeably upping the intensity in the closing stages. Inigo Calderon then dragged wide with Ruddy committed and the small pockets of home fans finally bursting into life and it came as little surprise when the hosts' final flourish paid dividends. March's rasping long range strike flew into Ruddy's top corner from fully 25 yards but there was still a sting in the tail with Becchio miscuing Ewan McNeil's teasing centre.
• Brighton (starting XI): Kuszczak, Saltor, Dunk, Crofts, Barnes, Orlandi, Upson, Lopez, Bridcutt, Maksimenko, Buckley.
• Booking: Maksimenko (foul on Elliott Bennett, 61)
• Goal: March (83)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Martin, R Bennett, Garrido (Ayala 76), Howson, Fer (Hooper 61), E Bennett (McNeil 89), Redmond (Butterfield 61), Tettey (Fox 72), van Wolfswinkel (Becchio 61). Sub (not used): Nash.
• Goal: Howson (27)
• Referee: David Phillips
• Attendance: 10,622