Norwich City’s turn to suffer late, late sucker punch
MILLWALL 1, NORWICH CITY 1: Norwich found themselves on the receiving end of a comeback in south London.
Just when they looked to be leaving south London with three valuable Championship points, they were hit with a sucker punch.
David Fox's 75th-minute goal had them singing in the aisles at the City end but up popped 18-year-old John Marquis, playing in front of his home fans for the first time – to steal it at the death.
It looked for all the world that City boss Paul Lambert – with a treatment room bulging with faulty ligaments and aching bones and stretched to the limit in terms of resources – had pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
Arguably his best player – Andrew Crofts – was suspended, and his two left-backs were among the walking wounded.
But while others may fret at the problem, Lambert simply reasoned it was an opportunity for someone else to come forward and make their mark.
Enter Fox. The former Colchester man was handed just his third league start of the season – such has been Crofts' dominance – but when the call came he answered. It was an impressive finish by the neat and tidy Fox – as impressive as the way he slots effortlessly into the line-up when asked.
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Sadly for City, it was a similar tale for Millwall boss Kenny Jackett, who only started with Marquis because he had a whole host of strikers in the treatment room.
With leading scorer Steve Morison suspended he put Marquis up front alongside Lewis Grabban, recalled from Brentford on Monday – and his own trick paid off.
City won the game's first corner after three minutes, Grant Holt doing well to tease a little ball to the near post for the recalled Chris Martin, with Paul Robinson taking it off his toes.
Millwall responded well, if a little tentatively, and Russell Martin had to nick the ball away from Marquis in the area to quell their first attack.
But they almost paid for their adventure when City broke. Holt did well to find Chris Martin to his right and the striker forced a good diving save from David Forde with a low effort from 25 yards.
City tried to step up a gear, although when Marquis robbed Russell Martin in midfield it caused a few flutters in defence, with Leon Barnett needed to block James Henry's shot.
City enjoyed plenty of possession without really threatening.
But at the other end big defender Danny Shittu produced something out of nothing after 20 minutes when his turn and low shot forced a fine save out of keeper John Ruddy, who tipped the ball around his right-hand post for a corner.
Millwall were a bag of nerves at times – routine passes went astray at either end, wasting valuable possession, but there was something of a youthful enthusiasm about them.
The perfect example came after 25 minutes when Marquis at the back post should have done much better with Grabban's cross – instead, it rather hit him, leaving Ruddy to collect.
The noisy home crowd were on their feet as half-time approached and a few tempers began to fray.
Chris Martin went down clutching his head after an aerial challenge with Shittu – the fans' reaction guaranteed a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball from then on.
Moments later Holt appeared to put his hand in Shittu's face as the atmosphere cranked up a few notches.
Referee Mark Haywood had words with both captains – Holt and Robinson – in an attempt to keep a lid on the situation. But then Elliott Ward argued with Marquis and Grabban after being penalised 25 yards outside the City area.
Henry – a one-time City loan player – sent the kick goalwards, a slight nick taking it just off target.
The incidents, perhaps minor in the bigger scheme of things, gave Millwall a boost as the interval approached and Ruddy was happy to see Henry stab Danny Schofield's cross high over his bar from eight yards.
Henry then turned provider with a cross from the right that Schofield got his head to at the back post, only for Ruddy to brilliantly tip up into the air before it was cleared.
City were under the cosh as the half ended, but maybe thought they were close to drawing the sting out of their hosts and that playing towards almost 1,400 travelling fans in the second half would give them the push they needed.
Marquis tested Ruddy with another back-post header from Grabban's cross early on, before Grabban shot wastefully wide after a City move had broken down – but in contrast a decent spell of pressure by City failed to test Forde in the home goal.
Lappin had a lucky escape when he appeared to handle a cross from Grabbin before City threatened for the first time in the half when Chris Martin's left-foot shot took a deflection and went narrowly wide and then McNamee had a shot blocked.
At the other end there was cause for concern when Millwall introduced Darren Ward – brother of City's Elliott – and pushed Shittu into attack.
Lambert made a double change in the 65th minute, Matthew Gill and Jackson on for McNamee and Hoolahan respectively.
City upped the tempo, the impressive Korey Smith curling one into Forde's arms – and after 75 minutes it all came good for City.
Gill launched a big throw-in from the left, the ball fell kindly for Fox just inside the area and he fairly thumped into past Forde, who was rooted to the ground.
Millwall had one or two moments, but it wasn't until the final 30 seconds that Henry swung a corner over and Marquis somehow bundled it over at the far post, City appealing in vain for handball.
It was rough on a City side who will know that opportunities to win at The Den are few and far between.