Norwich City 3 Stevenage 1: Canaries leave it late to seal hard-fought League Cup win
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City were pushed all the way before a late flurry earned a 3-1 League Cup first round win over spirited Stevenage on Tuesday at Carrow Road.
Christoph Zimmermann and Teemu Pukki scored in the final seven minutes with penalties on the horizon after James Ball had cancelled out Marco Stiepermann's header prior to the interval.
It may be early days second time around but those given a chance to make a compelling case for inclusion at Sheffield United this weekend failed to grasp their opportunity.
Moritz Leitner was the only survivor from the starting line up that fell the wrong side of a bizarre seven-goal contest against West Brom.
There was plenty of youth in the shape of Ben Godfrey, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell.
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A dash of stardust from the inclusion of Borussia Dortmund loanee Felix Passlack and an invitation for Dennis Srbeny to exert some pressure on the watching Jordan Rhodes.
But in the first half particularly, City's play was laboured, predictable and far too passive.
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Stevenage deployed a high line with few real alarms. It too a moment of quick-thinking cunning from Leitner to work a corner with Cantwell and then clip a ball to the back post for the unmarked Stiepermann to head home from close range.
Stiepermann may well have opened the scoring even earlier when he glanced a looping header off target in a rare penetrative burst from a home midfielder.
But in an echo of that 4-3 league defeat to the Baggies, Norwich again gifted the visitors the initiative. Stevenage were bright and fearless in the final third, darting into wide areas and offering enough movement in front of captain for the night Zimmermann and Godfrey to raise the levels of concern among the diehards who had ventured out.
Alex Revell wriggled free on the right but his angled shot veered wide.
Ball was cut down a yard outside the Norwich penalty box by Zimmermann. The Norwich man was cautioned but there was further punishment dispensed with Ball's vicious dipping free kick that clipped the inside of Michal McGovern's left-hand post.
It was the bare minimum the League Two triers deserved prior to the interval. Farke's much-changed line up was exhibiting the same lack of game management as the frontline options.
That is a much bigger cause for concern than progress in the League Cup. Farke himself made it clear on the eve of the new campaign he felt much better prepared as a coach, given the relative lack of churn to the squad he inherited 12 months previous. New players have still arrived to fill some large holes vacated by the likes of James Maddison and Josh Murphy. It is only fair to afford them time to adjust to their new surroundings, but the limitations in tactical approach and personnel hold sway at present.
Kenny McLean was introduced at the interval with Trybull appearing to pick up a calf injury on his seasonal re-appearance at home.
Passlack was the second home player cautioned for tipping up Kurtis Guthrie, sparking protests from Farke and his coaching team as the fractious atmosphere continued to swirl around Carrow Road just prior to the hour mark.
McLean was crowded out when found by Srbeny in the right hand channel but it was fitful, bitty. The structure and the sense of a cohesive team unit operating in a seamless flow was sorely absent.
Leitner was too often faced with a sea of blue shirts whenever the ball was worked to him in congested pockets. 'Shoot' was the cry from the Main Stand as McLean chopped back inside; that urgency from the terraces seemingly lost in translation.
Leitner took matters into his own hands with a cute pivot before freeing Srbeny who carved a rushed left-footed effort well wide. Farke had seen enough. Onel Hernandez was thrown into the mix. Leitner made way, perhaps in a clear signal the time had come for the more direct template.
Passlack underlined the shift in emphasis with a ball over the top for McLean but Seny Dieng saved with his legs in a duel at the near post.
Pukki replaced Cantwell with penalties looming. Dieng denied Srbeny in the 80th minute from the Finn's cushioned pass.
But relief was at hand in the most fortuitous circumstances when McLean's corner struck Zimmermann's Achilles as the defender was looking the other way and spiralled over the Stevenage line.
The skipper did his best not to celebrate but you could feel the collective sigh on and off the pitch.
Pukki added the gloss in the final seconds, yet no-one present left thinking this was anything other than a gruelling night at the office.
• Norwich City: McGovern, Passlack, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Aarons, Trybull (McLean 45), Cantwell (Pukki 78), Thompson, Leitner (Hernandez 70), Stiepermann, Srbeny. Subs (not used): Krul (GK), Rhodes, Lewis, Hanley.
• Bookings: Zimmermann (foul on Ball, 38); Passlack (foul on Guthrie, 58)
• Goals: Stiepermann (27), Zimmermann (83), Pukki (89)
• Stevenage: Dieng, Wildin, Hunt, Timlin (Sonupe 85), Cuthbert, Ball (Makoma 63), Byrom, Revell, Reid (Ferry 51), Guthrie, Nugent. Subs (not used): Farman (GK), Georgiou, Henry, Wilkinson.
• Booking: Guthrie (foul on Passlack, 73)
• Goal: Ball (40)
• Time added on: 3 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: Craig Hicks
• Attendance: 11,687