Fit-again Norwich City team captain Sebastien Bassong plays 60 minutes in the Canaries’ 4-1 development win over Stoke Under-21s
- Credit: Archant © 2013
Norwich City's reigning player-of-the-year Sebastien Bassong successfully made his pre-season return in Monday's emphatic 4-1 development league win against Stoke Under-21s at Colney.
Bassong turned in a composed 60-minute shift in his first outing since undergoing knee surgery at the start of the summer but there was a fresh injury scare for the Canaries when Luciano Becchio was forced off in the second period following a clash of heads. The dazed Argentine striker was eventually able to walk to the changing rooms unaided after lengthy treatment in the Canaries' penalty area.
Jacob Butterfield and Carlo Nash also featured along with a number of the club's FA Youth Cup winning squad. Josh and Jacob Murphy slotted a goal apiece with Jamar Loza's close range finish and an own goal from Potters' defender Alex Grant completing the rout. Stoke earned a minor consolation in stoppage time when James Alabi's cross deceived Harry Toffolo and Nash.
'Luciano was planned to come off just at that minute but he was really brave and stuck his head in to make a key interception,' said Paul Nevin, the academy's new head of coaching, who took charge of the squad alongside academy chief Ricky Martin. 'The medical team will check him over and I am sure he'll be okay in the final few days. It was really important to see Seb back. I thought he had a good hour and he led the line really well at the back. He got a lot of touches as well with us trying to play it out from the back. Glad to see him come through the 60 minutes as planned. Its great for the younger lads when they see a senior come down. They want to try and impress and again we have the management staff on the side of the pitch so that should inspire them.'
Nevin has been impressed by the quality of City's younger talent after arriving at the club during the summer.
'We've had a good pre-season against mainly lower league opposition but we have done a lot of work on moving the ball fast and I think that showed in this game,' he said. 'In the first half maybe we didn't show the quality in the first period. We had the majority of possession but perhaps it was the quality of decision making and execution in the final third. We said at half-time if we get that there would be no holding back.
'The FA Youth Cup winning squad obviously demonstrated they are tactically and technically very good. I think that was an achievement but it is gone now. The next thing for us is to try and push these boys through to the first team. That is what we are here to do and the players are very aware of that. The next crop coming up behind them have the challenge of trying to do as well if not better. The under-21 league is all about development but we want that competitive environment.'
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Martin was delighted to get the club's league campaign off to a positive start in the Canaries' bid to secure a top-half finish to qualify for the top tier of development football next year.
'It's a new format this season,' said Martin. 'Only the top 11 qualify for the first division next season so as an academy not only do we want that category one status but we want to be in the top level of development football. There are 22 academies who all want the same thing. We play every team once so we won't play Stoke again. That is our goal and to do that we need to put our players in the best possible environment so this is a perfect start.'
George Waring glanced Charlie Ward's tempting cross just past Nash's right-hand post in the fifth minute before Loza's angled strike clipped the side neting at the opposite end. Nash was forced to go full length to parry Alabi's shot and the experienced keeper then needed to race sharply from his line to block Waring with Stoke carrying the greater menace in the opening quarter.
Josh Murphy finally cut loose in the 36th minute when he dipped inside three Stoke defenders but curled well over Dale Eve's bar. City's twins combined shortly afterwards, with Josh striking the base of a post from 12 yards before his follow-up from the rebound also clipped the woodwork.
Bassong bravely threw himself in front of Karim Rossi at the edge of the City penalty box straight afte the restart before Becchio drilled against Ward. Nash was again called into action to parry Adam Thomas' hit that appeared to be sneaking just inside the post. Norwich made the vital breakthrough just past the hour mark when Josh Murphy slammed home a 25-yard free kick after Jacob had been scythed down - the cue for Bassong to be replaced by Hary Barker. Becchio followed soon after following a clash of heads with Waring in attempting to clear a Stoke corner at his near post. The Argentine forward was eventually able to walk away after treatment from City's medical staff with paramedics and stretcher bearers also in attendance, but on this occasion redundant. Loza swept home Barker's towering header from Josh Murphy's corner to double the hosts' lead in the 74th minute. Jacob Murphy profited from Carlton Morris' burst to race through but his poke rolled a yard wide in the closing stages. Butterfield drilled against Eve and the teenager earned a slice of luck when he paddled Josh Murphy's near post flick behind, but the Stoke keeper was well-beaten by Jacob Murphy's composed finish following an intelligent pass from his brother. Alabi reduced the arrears in stoppage time before the luckless Grant turned home Josh Murphy's angled strike to complete the frenetic second-half scoring.
• Norwich City: Nash, McNeil, Toffolo, Butterfield, Bassong (Barker 64), Gafaiti, Jacob Murphy, McGeehan, Becchio (Morris 70), Loza (Hall-Johnson 90), Joshua Murphy. Subs (not used): Matthews, Hood.
• Goals: Josh Murphy (63), Loza (74), Jacob Murphy (90), Grant og (90).
• Stoke City: Eve, Glasgow, Campbell (Watkins 59), Ward, Keane, Grant, Thomas, Wheeler, Waring, Rossi (Richards 88), Alabi. Subs (not used): Heneghan, Kurasik, Lecygne.
• Goal: Alabi (90).
• Bookings: (Glasgow, foul on Jacob Murphy, 65); Watkins (foul on Josh Murphy, 80).
• Referee: N Hair