Premier League International Cup: Norwich City U21s 1 Villarreal U21s 0
- Credit: JASON DAWSON/JASONPIX
Louis Ramsay's spectacular second-half goal has boosted Norwich City Under-21s' chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Premier League International Cup.
The Canaries team was made up of youngsters, with no over-age first-team players risked during an international break which sees 13 City players away on international duty.
The Yellow Submarine's B team play at a regional level in Spain's third tier and, just as the club's first team currently top the country's top tier, the Primera Division, they top the 20-team Segunda Division B Group Three table after winning six of their first seven games.
They are in Group C of the competition alongside the Canaries, Leicester and Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
The City U21s, including senior players Ryan Bennett and Gary Hooper, were beaten 3-0 by an experienced PSV side at Carrow Road last month.
Five of the players who featured for the visitors that night were then in PSV's squad when they beat Manchester United 2-1 in the Champions League later in the month, with two of the goal-scorers from that night, Stijn Schaars and Jurgen Locadia, used as substitutes against the Red Devils.
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Villarreal did not pose quite the same threat as PSV had, which was perhaps fortunate as the average age of the City team was just 18.1, which dropped down further to 17.7 when the team's most experienced player, former Falkirk midfielder Conor McGrandles, going off in the 12th minute with breathing problems.
The Scot was replaced by 16-year-old Louis McIntosh, making it two players of that age in the Canaries team, alongside striker Benny Ashley-Seal, as well a 15-year-old in winger Glenn Middleton.
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Good work from right-back Michee Efete allowed Todd Cantwell, playing in an advanced midfield role, to have a shot from the edge of the box in the ninth minute, which flew over the crossbar.
The hosts had goalkeeper Ben Killip to thank for keeping the scores level in the 13th minute, after sloppy play from McGrandles. The 20-year-old had already been limping slightly before he was robbed by two visiting players and then gave away a free-kick on the edge of his own box as he tried to recover.
McGrandles will then have been relieved to see Killip excellently punch a curling free-kick from Leo Suarez behind, when the ball looked to be flying into the top-left corner, before going off.
The best City chance of a goalless first half fell to Cantwell though, after a cross from the left from Jamie Eaton-Collins was not cleared properly, but he took an unnecessary first touch and then lashed his shot over the bar.
Javier Ramirez flicked a harmless header onto the roof of the net from a Suarez corner soon after the break as the game started to pick up in tempo and aggression, with Ray Grant anchoring the midfield well for City.
It was the Canaries pushing forward though and they had the chance to take the lead after Middleton fired the after-burners down the right and won a penalty in the 55th minute, being clipped by Carlos Julio Martinez.
Unfortunately the chance was wasted, Ashley-Seal firing towards the bottom-right corner but seeing keeper Ander Cantero guess correctly and parry the penalty, with McIntosh only able to turn the rebound over the bar under pressure.
Middleton was replaced by Jamal Lewis in the 64th minute after an encouraging display for someone so young. The Scotland youth international joined the club from Northampton Town as an under-13 and is said to be benefitting from being coached by legendary Canaries winger Darren Huckerby.
McIntosh slashed a curling shot just over the bar in the 67th minute but skipper Killip was again needed to make a big save a minute later as Franco Acosta charged clean through, spreading himself to save with his feet from point-blank range.
The keeper nearly ruined his good work in the 72nd minute, allowing an Afolabi Coker back-pass to roll too close to his goal and only just kicking clear as the ball was rolling on the goal-line.
It was fortunate he did as three minutes later the Canaries grabbed the lead, in spectacular fashion.
Cantwell help up play to the left of the box and teed up left-back Ramsey, who curled a lofted shot into the far top-right corner, well beyond the reach of Cantero.
Cantwell tried his luck from similar range in the 82nd minute, after being teed up by substitute George Couzens, but couldn't get the same bend on the ball.
The game then took a nasty turn when an off-the-ball scuffle resulted in Ramsay being booked, despite his insistence he had done nothing wrong, and then Villarreal substitute Carlos Martinez was sent off after the referee consulted with his linesman.
There was one late scare for City in the second of five added minutes, when Suarez crossed from the left and picked out an unmarked Fran Sol at the back post, but the visiting skipper thumped his shot wide.
The young Canaries complete their group games at Leicester on Tuesday, October 20, with a televised U21 Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur to be played first at Carrow Road on Thursday, October 15.
Norwich: Ben Killip (C); Michee Efete, Cameron Norman, Afolabi Coker, Louis Ramsay; Jamie Eaton-Collins (George Couzens 76), Ray Grant, Conor McGrandles (Louis McIntosh 16), Glenn Middleton (Jamal Lewis 64); Todd Cantwell; Benny Ashley-Seal. Unused subs: Aston Oxborough (GK), Henry Pollock, Owen Wallis.
Villarreal: Ander Cantero; Miguel Llambrich, Juan Fernandez, Javier Ramirez, Carlos Julio Martinez (Javier Garcia 82); Leo Suarez, Pablo Larrea, Manuel Morlanes (Marcos Mauro Lopez 71), Franco Acosta; Fran Sol (C), Javier Garcia (Carlos Martinez 46). Unused subs: Joaquin Miralles (GK), Mario Gutierrez, Victor Moya.
Referee: Rob Mackay (Bedfordshire)