Premier Under-21 League: Norwich City 2, Tottenham 3
- Credit: Rob Howarth
Norwich City slipped to a 3-2 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier Under-21 League, in front of another impressive home crowd and the BT Sport live cameras at Carrow Road on Thursday night.
Tottenham lead three times over the course of the night, City's youngsters showing plenty of character to battle back twice before Anthony Walkes' winner sealed the points.
The defeat was City's third from five Division One games so far this term, against a Spurs side that have now lost just twice in six Premier Under-21 League fixtures.
'For such a young team, with the big crowd and with the TV cameras here, and especially when Tottenham score after seven minutes, it would be really easy for our boys to let their heads drop and to go under because they were playing against a team that's older than them,' said Under-21 boss Dmitri Halajko.
'However, they didn't. They managed to get back into the game twice. Disappointed that we've conceded, in our eyes sloppy goals. But the character we showed to get back into the game and show some fight is pleasing.
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'I don't know whether we rose to the occasion. I think we were probably better last week and the week before that, in the first half against Everton, we were probably better then as well.
'So from a footballing point of view I don't think we raised our game. But I think we raised our game in terms of the fighting character we showed. And some of the young lads playing in this environment have never done it before. So we can only learn and develop and get better.'
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City made just one change from the youthful starting line-up that beat Spanish side Villarreal at Carrow Road, in their Premier League International Cup group game a week earlier.
Louis McIntosh stepped in for Conor McGrandles, taking the average age of Halajko's side below 18.
But Spurs also fielded a young XI including a handful of first-year scholars – and it was a 16-year-old that gave them the lead, as Keanan Bennetts deflected Filip Lesniak's shot beyond City keeper Ben Killip after just seven minutes.
Kyle Walker-Peters' jinking run from right-back threatened to make it two, as the visitors' promising start continued.
City first-team coach Gary Holt and academy coach Darren Huckerby took turns dishing out instructions from the touchline and after their slow start, City woke up.
Todd Cantwell's superb turn a through-ball sent Benny Ashley-Seal away, and he drew a save from Tom Glover.
But on 18 minutes City had their equaliser, Cantwell's corner superbly headed inside the far post by centre-back Cameron Norman.
Both sides had their chances before the interval of an entertaining half, although the excellent Lesniak came closest to adding to the score – sending a delicious first-time effort narrowly over Killip's bar.
City first-team boss Alex Neil visited the home dressing room during half-time to add a few inspiring words, and it seemed to do the trick as Norwich made a high-energy start to the second half.
But the game soon slipped into a battle, short on quality and high on niggles – before a frenetic finish gave the watching crowd of more than 6,500 plenty to enjoy.
Norman headed Ray Grant's free-kick over when well placed, following good initial work from young winger Glenn Middleton.
But a bit of class saw Spurs regain their lead as Cantwell was robbed in midfield. Captain Lesniak provided the slide-rule pass and Ryan Loft slotted neatly beyond Killip for his first Under-21s goal on 66 minutes.
That was only a minor blot on a useful copybook from Cantwell, with most of City's best moments flowing through the second-year graduate.
Killip denied Anthony Georgiou and Louis Ramsey cleared another effort off the line as Spurs pressed.
However, it was City who drew level for a second time. Terrific link-up play from Cantwell and Middleton saw the wide man get beyond his man and fire a teasing ball across the six-yard box that Eaton-Collins slid home with 13 minutes remaining.
Once again City couldn't hold off their hosts and four minutes later, substitute Zenon Stylianides squared for Anthony Walkes to side-foot home.
Shayon Harrison and Stylianides forced smart stops from Killip as Tottenham continued to look sharp up front, while City's late pressure could not force a third equaliser.
• City (4-1-4-1): Killip (c); Efete, Norman, Coker, Ramsey; Grant; Eaton-Collins, McIntosh (Hall-Johnson 61), Cantwell, Middleton (Lewis 84); Ashley-Seal (Couzens 88). Subs (not used): Oxborough (GK), Crowe. Goals: Norman (18), Eaton-Collins (77).
• Spurs (4-4-1-1): Glover; Walker-Peters, Velijkovic (c), Maghoma, Amos; Bennetts (Goddard 84), Lesniak, Walkes, Georgiou (Duncan 81); Harrison; Loft (Stylianides 69). Subs (not used): Voss (GK), Brown. Goals: Bennetts (7), Loft (66), Walkes (81).
• Referee: M Buonassisi; Attendance: 6,684
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey