Norwich City 2, Plymouth Argyle 1
CHRIS LAKEY The Canaries survived a nervous finale as they finally gained revenge over Plymouth tonight. Having taken an early lead through loan striker Ched Evans and then looked to have been in control when Darren Huckerby netted a late penalty, it was a backs-to-the-wall finish as they contrived to concede a late goal.
The Canaries survived a nervous finale as they finally gained revenge over Plymouth tonight.
Having taken an early lead through loan striker Ched Evans and then looked to have been in control when Darren Huckerby netted a late penalty, it was a backs-to-the-wall finish as they contrived to concede a late goal.
Memories of Stoke's late winner at the weekend were still clear in the mind but, by hook and by crook, City managed to keep Argyle at arm's length
Referee Paul Taylor's final whistle brought a huge cheer from a packed crowd - the second best of the season - the relief around Carrow Road palpable.
It was manager Glenn Roeder's third win in seven games and whilst it will do City's relegation battle a power of good, it also banished from the memory the dreadful performance at Home Park last month when City were beaten 3-0.
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Off the bottom, defeat for Ipswich - whatever next for Norwich? Survival is all that matters now.
Roeder sprang more than one surprise, with skipper Jason Shackell dropped to the bench, along with Lee Croft and Dion Dublin, although the veteran did leave Stoke at the weekend with a slight Achilles injury.
Jon Otsemobor returned at right back after missing the Britannia Stadium defeat because of a migraine, with his replacement, Gary Doherty, retaining his place, shuffled along the back line to partner Martin Taylor. Evans came in for his first start while Mark Fotheringham took the skipper's armband.
Huckerby started on the right of a midfield four - and within three minutes the changes had had the desired effect, City going ahead with their earliest goal of the season.
With both teams still finding their feet, Darel Russell intercepted an Argyle throw-in just inside his own half and guided a header to Jamie Cureton who played Evans in down the right flank. The teenager was dicing with offside, but kept his cool, headed goalwards and when Roman Larrieu advanced, coolly slid it under the keeper to get City off to the best possible start.
It was a whirlwind start for the Canaries, although within two minutes Argyle's veteran frontman Barry Hayles had turned and shot well wide and Peter Halmosi then curled one wide - warnings that games aren't won in the opening minutes.
Huckerby teased Larrieu with a cross from the byline, while Cureton's cross from the other side was just too high for Evans on 10 minutes.
It was pretty much end to end stuff, with the game already stretched in the opening stages - and both sides trying to play good football.
Halmosi stung David Marshall's fingers with a drive from 25 yards which the City keeper turned aside for a corner, as Argyle responded to some City pressure with a spell of their own.
Otsemobor went in the book on 19 minutes for a foul on Halmosi, whose reaction guaranteed the Hungarian would receive the bird for the rest of the game - but meant the City defender would walk a disciplinary tightrope for 80 minutes.
The early promise began to fade somewhat, with head tennis far too often the order of the evening.
Evans showed a nice touch to set Cureton free on the half-hour mark, although City's leading scorer was pushed wide left and his shot from a difficult angle was easily stopped by Larrieu.
Marshall came to City's rescue four minutes later, using his feet to deny David Norris, who had been given a clear run into the left of the area, and then grabbing Hayles' header after the ball broke free.
Evans showed some immaturity when Fotheringham's long pass was comically missed by defender Kristian Timar, releasing the Wales Under-21 international, who then chose to shoot rather than pass - and skied his effort.
Huckerby, by now, had moved to the more familiar left flank to try and stir City into a dominant position, but as half-time approached it was Argyle who came closest to scoring - and chances don't come much better than Sylvain Ebanks-Blake's on 44 minutes. Halmosi put in an inswinging corner and Ebanks-Blake, standing as close as you can get to Marshall on the line, somehow managed to head the ball over the bar. It was an astonishing miss from someone who has scored seven Championship goals this season - and left City somewhat fortunate to be ahead at the interval.
With less than three minutes of the second half there was an almost identical move from City to the one that brought the goal, Cureton sending Evans on his, only for the offside flag to be raised when the youngster appeared to have timed his run to perfection. Fotheringham almost did the same for Huckerby, but the pass had a little too much on it.
But it was Argyle who were the more purposeful of the sides, City looking nervous hosts, and Roeder tried to beef up his attack by bringing Lee Croft on for Pattison after 55 minutes.
The change may have spurred on Evans, who forced Larrieu into a diving save to his left with a lovely curling shot, but it was soon business as usual, much to the big crowd's frustration.
Argyle, for all their possession, were struggling to threaten Marshall's goal - and they should have been two down on 65 minutes, Croft putting in a great cross from the right after beating the offside trap but Cureton firing over from close range - minutes later he made his exit, replaced by Dublin.
Ebanks-Blake summed up Plymouth's second-half threat with a shot that was high and wide - but there was always that sneaky feeling that come the final 10 minutes they would be able to step up a gear.
As a spectacle it was up there with the best that Sunday league football could offer, neither side able to bring any fluidity to their play, with agricultural the best way to describe some of the passing. But when you're bottom of the table, the scoreline is what counts - and City, going into the closing stages, at least had that going for them.
They had to do it without Martin Taylor, the centre half replaced by Shackell after appearing to pick up an injury.
Evans was proving to be the one player who you could rely on to produce something worth watching when he had possession, like the way he made space for himself to cross to Dublin on 83 minutes, the sub putting his header over the bar.
Russell then shot straight at the keeper after good work by Croft had set Otsemobor free down the right and suddenly it was City who were on top.
All it needed was some sort of confirmation to avoid a sticky end - and when that penalty was awarded it was all but over.
Paul Connolly upended Huckerby and, despite his protestations and some verbals towards the City man, it was bread and butter stuff - and a welcome three points should have been in the bag.
City didn't help themselves - Timar stooping to head Halmosi's corner and pegging City back just when they didn't need it.