Team performance impresses Norwich City Under-23s boss despite ‘disappointing’ loss to Aston Villa
- Credit: Andy Kearns/Focus Images Limited
Norwich City Under-23s manager Dmitri Halajko was pleased with the performance of his young team, despite their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Carrow Road.
The Canaries development squad were not bolstered by any senior players for their latest Premier League Two fixture, as they have been regularly this season, due to tonight's first-team match at Wigan.
With midfielders Ben Godfrey and Ray Grant both travelling with the first team and Conor McGrandles not fit for the game, as well as top scorer Carlton Morris having gone out on loan to Rotherham, the U23s' starting line-up had an average age of under 19 years old on Monday night.
Despite that they should have won the game but were thwarted by an excellent performance from Villa keeper Viktor Johansson in the 1-0 defeat.
'Really disappointing for us from a team point of view, we felt we had a really good team performance and we felt we had 11 really good individual performances,' U23s boss Halajko said after the game.
'You don't often get both and lose the game but that has happened and it's been their goalkeeper and the woodwork which has made that happen.
'But very pleased with them individually and collectively for the performance they put out.'
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Dereham-raised playmaker Todd Cantwell went closest for the Canaries, on three occasions, firing a shot just over the bar in the first half before smashing against the post and forcing Johansson to superbly tip onto the crossbar after the break.
The 18-year-old, given a professional deal last year which keeps him at the club until at least the summer of 2019, missed a seven-game chunk of the season after picking up an injury problem in October but is now back up to speed.
'That's his first game for a while where he's back at full fitness and that showed,' Halajko said of Cantwell.
'We miss him when he's not in the team because of what he can do in the final third, which is unlock defences and be a goal threat, and he was that.'
Scotland youth international winger Glenn Middleton was another lively attacking threat for the young Canaries but the 17-year-old wasn't able to force the breakthrough in the Division Two clash either.
'Before the game we wanted to target getting him the ball because we thought he would have the beating of their full-back,' the U23s boss continued.
'We've played them twice before this season and he came off the bench and did really well and when we played them away he scored one and made one.
'So it's just one of those sides that he performs well against and he did that again.'
Benny Ashley-Seal started in the lone striker role following Morris' loan to Rotherham, having scored eight goals for the U23s this season, and has big boots to fill.
'Carlton deserved that loan, without a shadow of a doubt,' Halajko said of last week's deadline day deal. 'He needs to go and play Championship football and I think he'll be a real success there.
'For us he's been excellent, he's better than this level now and now he needs to go and rip up the Championship.'