Norwich City 1, Plymouth Argyle 3
DAVID CUFFLEY The Canaries crashed to a disastrous fourth home defeat of the season this afternoon as Plymouth struck three times in the space of 16 second-half minutes.
The Canaries crashed to a disastrous fourth home defeat of the season this afternoon as Plymouth struck three times in the space of 16 second-half minutes.
Hungarian midfielder Akos Buzsaky scored from two identical free-kicks as the Pilgrims completed a Championship double over the Canaries.
Things had looked promising for City at the interval after Youssef Safri scored his first goal for 16 months from a stoppage time free-kick.
But, in front of their lowest home crowd of the season, City failed to build on that lead and they were punished from three dead ball situations.
Plymouth acting skipper Barry Hayles equalised after 58 minutes when a corner was knocked back into his path by Hasney Aljofree.
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Four minutes later, Plymouth were ahead as Buzsaky curled in a direct free-kick, awarded for a foul by Gary Doherty.
Buzsaky wrapped up victory after 74 minutes with a replica free-kick, which bounced in off the underside of the bar and was adjudged to have crossed the line.
City, without injured top scorer Robert Earnshaw, gave new signing Chris Brown his debut for the final 25 minutes but it was a desperate second half for Norwich and the final whistle was greeted with chants of: “What a load of rubbish”.
Robert Earnshaw, top scorer in the Championship with 17 goals, was ruled out of the Plymouth game by injury.
Earnshaw had been monitored closely all week because of a knee injury that almost forced him to miss last week's FA Cup tie at Tamworth, but was instead sidelined this time by a groin injury he suffered in training.
His place went to Paul McVeigh, back in the starting line-up for the first time since the home match against Hull seven weeks ago.
New striker Chris Brown, Thursday's £325,000 capture from Sunderland, had to be content with a place on the bench, where Academy youngster Chris Martin was also among the substitutes. The 18-year-old from Beccles, yet to make a first team appearance, had been included on the bench just once before for the Carling Cup match at Rotherham in September.
Plymouth boss Ian Holloway made four changes to the team that drew 1-1 at Peterborough in the FA Cup last week. They included two new signings in Hungarian midfielder Peter Halmosi and striker Kevin Gallen, signed from Queen's Park Rangers. Acting skipper Barry Hayles returned in attack and there was also a place for midfielder Dan Gosling. Full backs Paul Connolly and Tony Capaldi were both suspended.
Before kick off, City striker Dion Dublin received the player of the month award for December.
A minute's silence was observed before the start of the match in memory of former City secretary Bert Westwood, who died on Boxing Day at the age of 89.
Plymouth kicked off defending the Barclay goal and Shackell was forced to concede a corner in the opening minute. The flag kick was headed clear by Etuhu and Norwich were swiftly on the attack with Huckerby trying to thread a cross through only for keeper McCormick to collect it on the near post. Dublin sent Huckerby away again moments later and this time his centre was headed away by Seip.
As Plymouth switched to the attack, a cross from Gosling was well cut out by Drury. Plymouth won their second corner, this time on the left, when Colin was forced to concede and this time Dublin was back with a powerful headed clearance. It set Norwich on the attack with a flick from McVeigh sending Croft away on the right and he won a flag kick when he was challenged by Aljofree. Safri's flag kick was a poor one, however, and McCormick punched clear.
City had an excellent opening moments later when a header from Dublin put Huckerby clear on the left but he was too deliberate in trying to find McVeigh with his cross and Seip intercepted, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.
With 10 minutes gone, Norris tried his luck with a low right-foot drive which was not too far wide of Gallacher's left hand post and fairly thumped against the advertising boards.
City had a dead ball opportunity with a free-kick from the right by Safri but Doherty's header back across goal was easily claimed by the keeper.
Plymouth looked lively when they did break and Halmosi was only just over the top with a powerful left-foot drive.
The Canaries squandered another opening when an excellent move finished with a one-two between Huckerby and Croft but with a queue of players awaiting Huckerby's cross, he once again failed to thread it through and Plymouth were able to clear.
The visitors were certainly not afraid to shoot from a distance and Norris let fly with a left footer from 20-yards but was some way off target.
City's final ball was letting them down far too often and another promising move was spoiled by a misdirected pass from McVeigh, which went out behind the Barclay goal and was greeted with groans from the home fans.
At the other end, a neat touch from Hayles almost gave Norris another shooting chance but he was thwarted by a pincer movement by Safri and Drury, with the City skipper emerging with the ball.
With 20 minutes gone an enormous goal kick by Gallacher went deep into the Plymouth area, where Dublin challenged keeper McCormick and got his head to the ball but also caught the keeper on the right knee with his left foot. McCormick needed treatment for two or three minutes and was still hobbling when play resumed.
A foul by Aljofree on Dublin gave City another free-kick, which Safri curled in from the right, for Dublin to send a powerful header just wide.
A misdirected ball from Buzsaky nearly landed McCormick in trouble and he had to race out to clear from Huckerby as the Norwich man sensed an opening.
Safri earned the first yellow card of the day when he appeared to use his elbow in a challenge on Nalis. As Plymouth pushed forward from resulting free-kick, Shackell's attempt to head clear dropped invitingly for Gallen, who hooked in a volley which Gallacher had to scamper back to collect.
An excellent City moved from one side of the field to the other ended when Colin produced the perfect cross to Etuhu, whose powerful header was only just off target.
City came the closest yet to breaking the deadlock in the 35th minute and it took a goal-line clearance from Sawyer to deny them. Huckerby found McVeigh on the left side of the box in space and he threaded his cross through to Etuhu, no more than three or four yards out, but as he got his toe to the ball his effort was blocked on the line by Sawyer and grabbed very gratefully by McCormick. It was certainly a narrow escape for Plymouth and the Canaries' best opportunity yet.
Plymouth won a free-kick midway into the City half and Aljofree floated his cross towards the penalty spot, but Hayles was penalised for a shove on Shackell.
Five minutes before the break, referee Jones showed the yellow card to Buzsaky, who decided to stop Huckerby in full flight by wrestling him over.
Plymouth were awarded another free-kick when Etuhu was adjudged to have fouled Buzsaky, but when Buzsaky and Halmosi tried to an elaborate routine, the Hungarian only managed to fire his cross out of play behind the goal.
Some neat play between Drury and Huckerby set up City's next raid and although Gosling appeared to obstruct Huckerby as he tried to force his way into the box, it was Huckerby penalised for pulling down the Plymouth man.
Just as the fourth official signalled that there would be two additional minutes in the first half, City took the lead.
Seip fouled Dublin just outside the penalty area as they challenged for a high ball and Safri took the dead ball kick, curling his shot just inside the keeper's right hand post for his first goal of the season, much to the delight of his army of fans.
Half-time: Norwich City 1, Plymouth Argyle 0
Before the second half began the referee ordered McVeigh to swap his shirt for a long-sleeved one because he objected to the long white sleeves showing on the top he was wearing underneath his yellow shirt.
There was a scare for the Canaries just a minute into the half when Buzsaky's in-swinging corner from the left struck the crossbar and bounced away, much to the relief of Gallacher and Shackell, jumping at the far post.
Buzsaky was further off target two minutes later, however, when he produced a poor left foot effort after a cross from Norris was headed into his path by Doherty.
It was a lively start to the second period for Plymouth and from their sixth corner of the match, Seip might have done better than send a header wide from Gosling's in-swinging kick.
The offside flag denied Norwich as they went on the counterattack with Huckerby adjudged to have moved a shade too early onto McVeigh's pass.
Seven minutes into the half, a delightful chip by Colin set up Croft and the winger produced a powerful right-foot drive which keeper McCormick did well to keep out, diving to his left. Dublin met the resulting corner with a full-blooded volley but it ballooned high into the crowd behind McCormick's goal.
Norwich produced another bright move when Doherty won an important tackle and a neat touch from McVeigh found Croft in space on the right, with the winger's cross desperately bundled clear by the Plymouth defence as Dublin moved in at the near post.
Huckerby had a golden chance to stretch City's lead when Etuhu found him with a perfect pass inside the right back but after steadying himself, Huckerby blazed a left-foot shot over the top.
The Canaries were made to pay for that miss after 58 minutes when Plymouth drew level through Hayles. A corner from the right by Halmosi drifted beyond the far post where Aljofree hooked it across goal left footed for Hayles, unmarked, to nod home from very close range. Doherty became the third player to be shown the yellow card when he fouled Buzsaky just outside the Norwich area and it was a costly infringement, because the visitors moved ahead from the resulting free-kick. There was some delay while City sorted out their defensive wall but it made no difference to Buzsaky, who scored direct with a curling right foot shot inside Gallacher's right hand post, not dissimilar to Safri's goal in the first half.
That second Plymouth goal prompted manager Grant to make his first change of the afternoon, replacing McVeigh with new signing Brown, giving him just over 25 minutes to make an impact on his debut.
There were appeals for handball against Gosling as Norwich attacked through Huckerby, but they had to settle for a corner. When Safri's kick came across, it was Dublin who produced a juggling effort but his lob landed on top of the Plymouth net.
There was, thankfully, a bit more urgency from City now and an excellent pass from Etuhu gave Croft the chance to cross, but his centre was a poor one and Plymouth were able to breathe again.
With just over 20 minutes left Plymouth boss Holloway made his first change, sending on Hodges in place of Gosling.
As City pressed again, Huckerby crossed towards the far post but it was just too strong for Croft who was unable to control his header and it drifted behind for a goal kick.
Dublin had been penalised several times by referee Jones and when he was adjudged to have fouled Nalis just outside the area, it had dire consequences for City. The resulting free-kick was from an almost identical position to that from which Buzsaky scored Plymouth's second and it had an almost identical result. This time, Buzsaky's right-foot shot struck the underside of the bar and bounced down and a scramble followed in which Drury eventually hooked the ball away, but the linesman signalled that the shot had crossed the line and Plymouth were now 3-1 ahead.
City had a chance to reduce the arrears but Doherty's header from Huckerby's cross brought groans around the stadium when it dropped at least five yards wide of the target.
Plymouth fans who had already seen their side beat City 3-1 once this season, were being handsomely rewarded for their long journey and taunted home supporters with the chant of: “Are you Ipswich in disguise?”
Plymouth made a second change with eight minutes to go when Summerfield came on in place of Halmosi.
With five minutes to go Grant sent on Robinson at the expense of Colin.
Robinson immediately slotted into a central defensive position with Doherty and Shackell on either side as City opted for just three men at the back.
Brown managed his first shot on target with an overhead effort but keeper McCormick saved easily.
Plymouth made another change with three minutes remaining when Reid replaced Hayles.
Huckerby then had a close range effort deflected wide for a corner, but City were unable to make anything of the flag kick.
A minimum of four minutes of added time was signalled by the fourth official in which City had to try to rescue a hopeless situation.