Norwich City 1, QPR 0
DAVID CUFFLEY Dion Dublin's third goal for Norwich City finally brought a belated December victory for their fans to celebrate at Carrow Road. After five matches without a win, the veteran striker scored after 68 minutes to see off the challenge of Queen's Park Rangers.
Dion Dublin's third goal for Norwich City finally brought a belated December victory for their fans to celebrate at Carrow Road this afternoon.
After five matches without a win, the veteran striker scored after 68 minutes to see off the challenge of Queen's Park Rangers.
Dublin, who had scored when the two sides met in a 3-3 draw at Loftus Road in October, produced a cool finish to a move involving skipper Adam Drury and fellow striker Robert Earnshaw.
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More than once, Earnshaw had chances to add to his 16 goals for the season, but he was foiled in the first half by Rangers' keeper Simon Royce and in second half stoppage time by a brilliant tackle from defender Damion Stewart.
Rangers battled gamely in very wet conditions for much of the afternoon, but their best effort was a first half header from Paul Furlong which City keeper Paul Gallacher managed to keep out.
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Skipper Adam Drury and midfielder Youssef Safri returned to the City starting line up against Rangers.
Drury recovered from the hip injury that forced him to miss the Boxing Day goalless draw against Southend and regain his place at left back at the expense of Andy Hughes.
Safri, who this week stated he would leave Carrow Road if he could not get first team football, was starting a match for only the second time in nine games. He replaced Carl Robinson serving a one match ban after picking up five yellow cards.
Hughes was among the substitutes. So too was Ryan Jarvis, on the bench in place of Peter Thorne, suffering from a stiff neck.
Rangers' boss John Gregory made four changes to the team which started the 2-1 defeat at Birmingham on Boxing Day.
Recalled were Kevin Gallen, Martin Rowlands, Steve Lomas and Ray Jones, in place of Zesh Rehman, Marc Bircham, Jimmy Smith and Dexter Blackstock. Blackstock was one of the five Rangers substitutes.
Rangers kicked off, defending the Barclay goal, and quickly won a throw in by the right corner flag when Doherty managed to clear. Lomas took the throw, aiming it towards the near post, but Gallacher made a clean catch.
Gallacher was out again in the third minute to gather a cross from Rowlands as Rangers pushed forward once more.
As City attacked on the break, they won a free-kick for a foul on Croft but Safri's ball into the Rangers' area was a poor one and was easily dealt with.
Huckerby tried to find Earnshaw in the Canaries next attack, but his lofted through ball was cut out by Stewart wearing a protective face mask, who headed the ball back safely to keeper Royce.
A cross from Cook posed problems for Doherty, who sliced his attempted clearance high into the air and City had trouble clearing their lines until Drury made an important block and appeared to suffer a knock in the process. The skipper was soon on his feet, however, and able to continue.
Norwich carved out their first real opening after eight minutes when Drury found Huckerby and his cross to the far post was nodded down by Dublin to Earnshaw, who was able only to nod the bouncing ball wide of the target. However, referee Dowd blew for a free-kick, though it was not clear whether Earnshaw was offside or whether Dublin had fouled Mancienne.
A misplaced cross field ball from Croft was cut out by Rowlands as Rangers switched to attack, but the winger sent his low right foot drive two or three yards wide of Gallacher's right hand post.
City looked quite lively in the opening stages and Huckerby delivered another cross towards Earnshaw, with the little striker shaping for a scissor kick, only for Mancienne to get there first and head clear.
Dublin was next to try his luck with a rather ambitious right foot shot from the corner of the penalty area after Etuhu had got his head to a Bignot throw in.
With 16 minutes gone, Rangers came very close to breaking the deadlock when first Furlong met a cross to the far post from Rowlands with a downward header which Gallacher managed to parry and then, with City unable to clear, Jones had a fierce shot blocked by Shackell.
Norwich pushed forward again with Huckerby attempting to find a cross, but Croft had strayed offside.
Rangers won a free-kick halfway into the Norwich half when Drury fouled Rowlands. Cook floated the dead ball kick towards the penalty spot, where Shackell got in a header, but the loose ball fell for Milanese, who should have done better than screw his left foot shot across the face of the goal and eventually out for a throw in.
Midway through the half, Norwich won a free-kick by the right corner flag and it was taken quickly, with Etuhu swinging a low ball into the six-yard box, where Stewart had to hack it clear.
Moments later, Huckerby was clearly unhappy with referee Dowd when he was caught late on the ankle by Bignot but the official saw no infringement.
Stewart upended Earnshaw on the very edge of the Rangers' area close to the by-line to concede another free-kick but Safri's dead ball effort was punched away by Royce and when Croft turned the ball back into the area, Rangers had too many bodies in the way.
Bignot collected the first yellow card of the afternoon for a foul on Huckerby 10-yards into the Rangers' half. Drury took the free-kick, which reached Croft by the right corner flag, but he was dispossessed by Cook, enabling Lomas to burst forward. The midfielder found Rowlands wide on the right, but he delivered an awful cross straight out of play behind Gallacher's goal.
The home crowd were angry on the half hour when Croft went down just inside the Rangers' penalty area with, it seemed, a helping hand from Milanese but the linesman, standing right in front of the incident, made no signal and play carried on.
Excellent work by Dublin enabled Croft to go racing away and deliver a cross into the middle where Stewart made an excellent sliding clearance as Earnshaw closed in.
There was a hold up soon afterwards when Drury needed treatment after being caught on the head by the trailing leg of Rowlands as the Rangers' man hammered the ball clear. After a couple of minute's treatment from physio Reynolds, the City skipper was able to carry on once again.
Dublin showed excellent control to bring down a long ball from Shackell and deliver a cross towards Earnshaw, only for Bignot to head clear.
Huckerby's persistence earned the Canaries a corner in their next attack but his flag kick was far too strong and Milanese hammered the ball clear on the far side.
In the 39th minute, City produced one of their best efforts yet when Dublin nodded down a cross from the right and Earnshaw struck a powerful effort which Royce managed to turn away acrobatically.
There was a sudden burst of heavy rain as the interval approached and Rangers made their first change of the afternoon when Ward came on for Rowlands, who had been receiving treatment on the ground after a knock.
The second yellow card of the day went to Cook three minutes before the break for a foul on Safri but there was a delay before the kick could be taken when Lomas needed treatment for a knock.
When play finally restarted, Safri's free-kick reached Doherty, but the defender's header was well off target.
Substitute Ward made his first contribution with a cross from the right which Gallacher gathered cleanly with both hands.
Given the number of stoppages, it was rather surprising that the fourth official signalled only two minutes of added time.
In that time, however, City won one more corner and Safri's kick was nodded back by Doherty, but Rangers were able to clear.
Half-time: Norwich City 0, Queen's Park Ranger 0.
The second half began with heavy rain sweeping across the ground and City quickly on the attack. Earnshaw won a corner inside a minute and Safri's dead ball kick was met with a firm header by Shackell, but over the top.
A neat passing move followed that and a clever pass by Croft found Colin in an unusually advanced position on the corner of the Rangers' six-yard box, but the fullback sent his shot into the side netting where he perhaps might have done better.
City had begun the second half brightly and Mancienne had to slide in to concede a corner as Huckerby threaded a low cross towards the six-yard box.
City broke again by Huckerby on the left but when he tried to pick out Etuhu in the penalty area, the midfielder was beaten to the ball by Stewart who made another timely interception.
Norwich won another corner on the right and Safri's flag kick reached the penalty spot, but Shackell was again first to get his head to it and once more his effort comfortably cleared the bar.
An excellent through ball from Safri sent Earnshaw racing away and the striker appeared to be shoved by Stewart right on the edge of the area, but no free-kick was given. Earnshaw needed treatment after the challenge and was clearly hobbling afterwards.
Dublin was still winning most of his aerial challenges and he flicked on a goal kick from Gallacher to winger Croft who did well to squeeze in a cross from close to the by-line but Royce was equal to it.
With more than an hour gone, City were still searching for that elusive goal to bring a little seasonal joy to their home crowd after Tuesday's goalless draw.
They won a couple more corners, with Safri's in-swinger from the left punched clear by Royce and then the same player taking the next flag kick from the right, when Doherty's header was blocked before Rangers hacked the ball clear.
Safri dashed to the touchline at the next opportunity to change his right boot, which appeared to have been damaged, and while City were a man short, Lomas sent a powerful right foot shot just wide of the target.
City won their eighth corner midway through the second half and Dublin this time got his head to Safri's kick but once more it was well off target.
With 68 minutes gone, City's efforts were finally rewarded when Dublin gave them the lead. The goal came from a long ball forward from Drury and though Stewart won his header, the ball dropped obligingly for Earnshaw to lob it towards Dublin, who produced a cool side-footed volley past Royce.
Instantly, Rangers went in search of an equaliser and Cook tested Gallacher with a low left foot shot which the keeper did well to hold in increasingly slippery conditions.
A foul by Milanese gave City a free-kick close to the right hand corner flag and Safri's kick was aimed towards Huckerby, whose volley from just inside the box was off target.
Another opportunity went begging for Norwich when Colin put Huckerby clear inside the penalty area, but Huckerby seemed unable to keep his feet and the ball slipped away from him through to keeper Royce.
There was a double change with 14 minutes left when City boss Grant sent on Hughes in place of Croft on the right hand side, and Rangers put on another striker with Blackstock replacing Gallen.
Hughes almost made an instant impact with a long through ball towards Earnshaw, but Royce just managed to get there first.
Rangers were now pushing men forward in a bid to get on terms and City had to endure a couple of minutes pegged in their own half, though the visitors did not seriously trouble Gallacher.
An excellent through ball from Dublin almost teed up Earnshaw with five minutes to go but his striking partner was just muscled out as he tried to get the ball under control for a shot.
Dublin was showing all his own tricks by now and an excellent back heel to Hughes enabled the substitute to set up Huckerby, but Huckerby blazed his left foot drive well off target when he really could have made it 2-0 and put the game out of Rangers' reach.
With just two minutes left, McVeigh was sent on in place of Safri, who received a big ovation from the home crowd for his efforts on his return to the side.
There were a few groans inside Carrow Road when the fourth official signalled three extra minutes to be played but this time City were hoping there would be no repeat of the kind of late goal which had ruined so many matches for them this season.
City had a golden chance to wrap up the game when Hughes put Earnshaw racing clear in the second minute of time added on, but Stewart got back to make a brilliant tackle just as the City man shaped to shoot.
Result: Norwich City 1, Queen's Park Rangers 0.
MoM: Dion Dublin
Norwich: Gallacher, Colin, Shackell, Doherty, Drury, Croft, Safri, Etuhu, Huckerby, Dublin, Earnshaw. Subs: Lewis, Fleming,
Hughes, McVeigh, Ryan Jarvis.
QPR: Royce, Bignot, Stewart, Mancienne, Milanese, Gallen, Rowlands, Lomas, Cook, Furlong, Ray Jones. Subs: Cole, Ward,
Baidoo, Kanyuka, Blackstock.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)