Championship: Norwich City 3 Cardiff City 2
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The Canaries returned to winning ways by edging a tight encounter against the Bluebirds.
City were far from their best but took control of their return to Championship action thanks to close range-finishes either side of the interval from Cameron Jerome and Russell Martin – who was credited with the goal even though his attempt appeared to have brushed Jonny Howson on its way into the net.
Anthony Pilkington reduced the arrears with less than five minutes to go after pouncing inside the six-yard-box as Paul Trollope's men threatened a grandstand finish.
Substitute Josh Murphy's sublime strike from distance ended their hopes of a comeback but there was still time for Pilkington to find the net again as a dour encounter finally exploded into life.
Alex Neil's starting line-up contained four changes from the team who went down so disappointingly at Birmingham prior to the international break.
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Out went Steven Whittaker, Ryan Bennett, Sergi Canos and Steven Naismith - the latter two from the matchday squad entirely – and in came fit-again trio Ivo Pinto, Graham Dorrans and Jerome.
It was Dorrans' first start of the season while the other returnee to the XI, Martin, was making his maiden appearance from the off in the league this term.
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City's first scare of the afternoon came when Robbie Brady went down in a heap after colliding with Jazz Richards during an aerial challenge inside 10 minutes.
The Republic of Ireland international, holding the top of his left leg near his hip, tried to soldier on but eventually succumbed to the pain and was replaced by Bennett – who dropped in at centre-back with Martin filling the void left by Brady.
It was down the departed player's side that Cardiff fashioned the first half-chance of the game. Pilkington got in behind but his well-hit snapshot was never going to beat Michael McGovern at his near post.
Norwich had offered little as an attacking force until they made their first real foray count. Wes Hoolahan switched the play to Martin, he moved the ball on to Jacob Murphy, and the winger's outstanding centre almost beat everybody, including keeper Ben Wilson.
The Bluebirds' shot-stopper could only push the wideman's centre back out as it bent towards the far post. The ball popped up to Jerome who made a real hash of his first effort before slotting home on the swivel from a tight angle.
An injury to the visitors' skipper Sean Morrison created another stoppage – which hardly helped as both sides struggled to get into any sort of rhythm.
Deadline-day signing Rickie Lambert soon caused some alarm in the home box but saw his instinctive drive flicked over by the boot of Timm Klose.
The same striker thought he had found an equaliser 10 minutes before the break by peeling off at the back post to meet Aron Gunnarsson's flicked long throw-in. Yet McGovern leapt to his right spectacularly to push the former Liverpool hitman's header away from danger.
It was the last opportunity of what was a tight opening period with only Richards' sublime defensive header at the back post denying Jacob Murphy an injury-time tap in.
Declan John's equally inviting centre would have provided a similar opportunity for his team minutes after the restart but nobody took up the invite and Martin cleared.
With Klose receiving treatment – having taken an apparent elbow in the face from Lambert – Cardiff went even closer to equalising. Gunnarsson's delicious delivery was met by the rising Lambert but his thumping header crashed back off the crossbar.
City struggled to gain any momentum until a sweeping move saw Ivo Pinto reach the byline and pick out Jerome. He failed to get any purchase on a header that was deflected wide but it made little difference as from the resulting corner Norwich made it two.
Jacob Murphy picked out Martin and his header ended up in the net with Howson claiming to have got the final touch.
As City pressed home their advantage, Howson's centres created sighters that Klose and second-half introduction Alex Pritchard, enjoying his home debut, failed to take up.
Only Lee Peltier's diligent covering prevented the new boy from making a goalscoring start to life at Carrow Road when he drifted in dangerously off the left.
Dorrans almost gifted the Bluebirds a way back into the game but luckily for him his attempted clearance flashed past the outside of McGovern's post.
City's keeper then flapped at a corner but Pilkington couldn't make him pay. The former City player did when the home side failed to clear their lines once more and Peltier's effort – after Peter Whittingham had kept the move alive – was turned across the line by his chest.
Any late nerves could have been eased but Josh Murphy failed to tee up Jerome for a sitter with minutes to go.
The young wideman made up for it though as the clock struck 90 by bending a beautiful shot around Peltier from the edge of the box and beyond a sprawling Wilson.
However, that was not the end of the scoring with City failing to deal with another set piece and Pilkington reacting first to Morrison's knockdown in a packed goalmouth.
But this time it really was too little too late as the Canaries held on to pick up all three points.
City: McGovern, Pinto, Martin, Klose, Brady (Bennett, 12), Howson, Tettey, Dorrans, Jacob Murphy (Josh Murphy, 82), Hoolahan (Pritchard, 71), Jerome. Subs not used: Ruddy, Bassong, Mulumbu, Lafferty. Booked: Klose, Tettey. Goals: Jerome (16), Martin (59), Josh Murphy (90)
Cardiff: Wilson, Peltier, Morrison, Connolly (Noone, 71), Richards, Ralls, Immers (Whittingham, 64), Gunnarsson, John (Harris, 64), Pilkington, Lambert. Subs not used: Amos, Manga, Gounongbe, Huws. Booked: Connolly, Pilkington, Goals: Pilkington (86, 90+4)
Time added on: Four minutes/five minutes
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)