Norwich City Under-21s 1, Stoke City Under-21s 0
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's Scottish international defender Steven Whittaker successfully came through a 90 minute work out in the Canaries' 1-0 Premier League U21 development win over Stoke's U21s at Colney on Monday afternoon.
Whittaker turned in a composed shift at right-back in his first outing since the club's Premier League defeat at West Brom on December 22. The 28-year-old's City career has been hampered by a hip problem since a summer switch from Rangers, but Whittaker pushed his claims for a return to the first team fold in front of Chris Hughton and his management team.
Adel Gafaiti's 41st minute header completed a development league double for Scott Marshall's youngsters over the Potters in a City line up that featured Whittaker and Leon Barnett as over-age outfield players. George Francomb and Korey Smith were also on duty and Marshall was delighted with the positive influence from Norwich's senior stars.
'They showed a real good attitude when they came into the group over the last few days as we started to prepare for the game. We never had any doubts about that. They are good professionals,' he said. 'It keeps them ticking over in a good competitive game to keep their sharpness up. It was difficult. The pitch was lively and it was bobbling up a bit. It wasn't a perfect day for playing some beautiful football. I thought the boys were disciplined in how they worked and they stuck to their duties defensively well. We could have made things a little bit easier for ourselves if we had taken a couple of chances, certainly in the second period, but we had to go a little bit longer in our play and to be fair to the boys they made those runs in behind and stretched the Stoke defence which opened up the game a little bit.'
Gafaiti's thumping header from Josh Murphy's teasing free kick capped a fine display from the Algerian centre-back.
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'Adel has done very well,' said Marshall. 'He had a little bit of disappointment because he thought he was going away with Algeria and playing in the junior African Nations but he is sticking around with us while it is on so to get a goal and a win I am delighted for him. He put his head on a few balls that came into box when he had to defend and he is improving all the time. He has a great personality and he wants to learn and get better. Playing with the likes of Leon and Steven has to help his confidence and I felt he wanted to lead as well and push the defence up and take control when it needed to be done. He has a confidence in what he is doing and a belief and understanding which is good to see.'
Young Norwich professionals Josh and twin brother Jacob Murphy were a constant threat to the Pottters' backline. Francomb struck a rising free kick well over just before the half-hour mark after Jacob Murphy had been crudely upended. Josh Murphy's trickery and diagonal pass freed the overlapping Whittaker, but Joel Murphy was well-positioned at his near post to clear the danger.
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Stoke full-back George Rigg was a touch fortunate to escape a red card five minutes from the interval when he tugged back Jacob Murphy as the Norwich forward raced clear, but Gafaiti cashed in when he rose powerfully to despatch Josh Murphy's free kick.
Stoke keeper Daniel Bachmann grasped Michael Clunnan's free kick moments later with Norwich striving to double their lead and the unmarked Gafaiti spurned a golden opportunity shortly after half-time when he planted Francomb's corner over from eight yards.
John Marsden lashed wide for the visitors before Jed Steer was finally pressed into action with a flying parry to claw out the Stoke striker's goalbound curler on 66 minutes. The adventurous Whittaker then slammed well over from the edge of the Potters' penalty area in the closing stages and Smith's header clipped the top of the bar after Bachmann had again denied Jacob Murphy.
• Norwich City U21s: Steer, Whittaker, McNeil, Clunan (Durojaiye 68), Barnett, Gafaiti, Francomb, Smith, Loza (Young 86), Jacob Murphy, Josh Murphy (Hall-Johnson 75). Subs (not used): Sheriff, Matthews, Hall-Johnson, Young.
• Booking: Josh Murphy
• Goal: Gafaiti (41)
• Stoke City U21s: Bachmann, Rigg, Taylor, Ward, Heneghan, Keane, Thomas, Richardson (Hall 84), Marsden (Barrington 68), Scott, Musunga. Subs (not used): Eve, Hall, Sanders, Hulme.
• Booking: Rigg
• Referee: A Sannarude