Written by Matt Stevenson
AFCB headed to Norwich in fine form (5 wins on the bounce in the league, and a 14-3 aggregate over these games) and comfortably in the play-off places with Reading stuttering and looking upwards following defeats for Watford, who have to play 3 of the top 4, and draws for Brentford (who have to come to the Vitality Stadium) and Swansea, who may have Ayew out for the next games. Those of a more optimistic mind may even be eyeing up second, but this seems very long odds, and there is the little matter of playing Norwich at Carrow Road, whose promotion back to the Premier League was confirmed by the earlier results. This may help us, if subliminally Norwich loses some of that edge. Whilst they are professionals, Watford’s result means Norwich are clear favourites to win the league, and it is possible that in the back of their head they fancy a 50:50 blood and thunder tackle less than they would have done if they were in third. But the pressure may be off, and they may play with freedom. Both teams are unchanged. Two of the best teams in the league means this should be a good game to watch, and those supporting the red and black are hoping that this will be a Premier League fixture next season.
The first 5 minutes showed Norwich were up for it, very up for it, as The Cherries hardly strung two passes together and The Canaries controlling the game. A free-flowing move saw the ball progress from the left-back position to Pukki bearing down on goal. Kelly got a foot in, but Pukki retained the ball, and then played a brilliant disguised pass after a drag back, through Cook and Kelly to an onrushing Buendia, who Norwich did well to keep hold of after relegation, to poke past Begovic. In the opening 10 minutes, we were outclassed and they looked a yard faster. Pukki got a knock just after, and it felt a relief as something was needed to break up the home team’s rhythm. Our first chance came a little later with Billing having a shot blocked after a scramble. Shortly after there was a potential lifeline when after a clash between Pearson and Giannoulis, which saw the Uruguayan sent off. I doubt many would think there was malice in it, but on the replays, it didn’t look good. It looked like we had equalised when Danjuma was sent through on the left, cut inside as we had seen him do many times before, and put it past Tim Krul, only for Solanke to tap it in before it had crossed the line, but from an offside position. Arrgh. There felt like a shift in the game, with Norwich down a man, but importantly being a goal up. Pearson was heavily involved, mainly drawing fouls and irritating Norwich. Midway through the first half, another failed AFCB corner routine set Norwich away on the counter, but thankfully Cantwell blazed over. Around the halfway mark Danjuma, skipped past his man to reach the bye-line and Solanke flicked one towards goal with Krul doing enough to put it around the post. Norwich still was a threat on the break with speed and skill, and Kelly made a saving tackle. The pattern of the game seem set though, with Norwich sinking back playing attack versus defence and looking to spring on the counter. The question was whether we’d have the creativity to get the goal, often it was Smith the spare man, after one of these runs, Smith collided with Hanley in the penalty area, the substitute board came up, by Hanley overruled it. Whether he comes out after the break is questionable. A strange first half – we were played off the park for a quarter of an hour, then Norwich went down to 10, we would have equalised if Solanke had stayed away from the ball, and we were beginning to create a fair number of slight chances rather than any clear ones. The second half will be intriguing, Norwich will tire, and given our superior goal difference we should go for this in the second half, and losing 2 or even 3-0, won’t mean much, whereas the reward is an extra point that could be crucial. If there isn’t a breakthrough, this might be a game for Surridge to cause problems. I’m feeling a little wary that Lerma picked up a booking in the first half. If Norwich get into the ref over the borderline red / yellow tackle, he might even it up.
I write the reports in real-time, so I felt not completely clueless tactically when Lerma was replaced for Surridge. At least Jeff is safe for future games, and we have traded an overload in midfield for an extra centre-forward. The game could turn on whether Danjuma and Brooks can keep forward, effectively meaning four up front. A couple of corners in the opening stages of the second half was promising. Although Smith was still getting a lot of the ball and I wonder whether Stacey may make more of the situation. After 50 minutes, we had a second goal disallowed from Surridge, but then it was given (rightly so on the replay) after consultation between the referee and the linesman. This game is there for the taking, although whilst Norwich may feel aggrieved with the sending off, my mind goes back to Lerma’s red card at Luton. Swings and roundabouts. Buendia had a great turn and shot that almost put Norwich in front, but 40 seconds later, it was 2-1 to AFCB. Danjuma got the ball on the left touchline, went pass two and when the defence dropped off put it in the top left corner against the direction of his run. Not as sweet a strike as Solanke’s against Huddersfield, but more pleasing. In the 67th minute, the ref may have evened it up, but not awarding McClean a second yellow for a foul on Brooks. It would be hard to argue that Norwich shouldn’t have been down to 10 men now, although obviously, the course of the game would have been different if the first one hadn’t had been given. Two minutes later, Brooks picked up a booking following a drag back after he had given the ball away with a slack pass. He was immediately replaced with Stanislas, which may have been planned anyway, but the yellow card would have hastened the change. Norwich was still pressing and Carter-Vickers made a couple of timely interceptions. One of these resulted in Surridge getting the ball, playing it out to Danjuma, who was marginally offside, he held it up, played it back to Kelly who took a touch and smashed it in the bottom right corner, with Krul looking a little flat-footed. Norwich withdrew Buendia and Cantwell, almost signalling they have given this one up, particularly as Pukki had been withdrawn earlier. Near the end, Skipp picked up a booking after being taunted by Danjuma and then bringing down Pearson. Stacey came on in the final minute for Danjuma, with Stanislas switching over to the left-wing. This result would never have looked likely after the first 15 minutes when we were chasing shadows, and there were two great strikes from Danjuma and Kelly but that’s now six on the spin and our record of beating the footballing sides is looking good for the play-offs.
Man of the match against Norwich
Begovic: 7. Always hard to mark when he had little to do. This balances out a 6 from a previous game where he had little to do.
Kelly: 8. Forming a formidable partnership with Danjuma, and scored his first goal for the club, plus picked up an assist
Carter Vickers: 7. The more I see of him, the more I like him. I can’t remember him losing a one-to-one duel.
Cook: 7. See Begovic. Maybe should have been nearer Pukki for the opener, but this would be a quibble.
Smith: 7. Lots of energy, it’s a shame that we didn’t produce clear chances from the times he was the spare man.
Lerma: 7. Helped in the fightback, but was quieter than recently
Pearson: 8. Showing exactly why he was bought. His reaction to the Giannoulis tackle may have swayed the ref, and he consistently broke up play and irritated the opposition.
Billing: 7. Didn’t get the chances that he has recently, but still linked up play nicely
Brooks: 6. Didn’t affect the game directly, but coming inside often gave Smith the freedom to get forward unmarked.
Danjuma: 9 (MOTM) A constant threat to Norwich, a superb goal, an assist, and a goal that was wiped out by Solanke. If we don’t go up we will struggle to keep hold of the Dutchman.
Solanke: 6. His biggest contribution was in disallowing Danjuma’s ‘goal’, but I’m pleased for him that it didn’t alter the results.
Surridge: 7. Scored with his first touch, then didn’t get directly involved, but being in the centre meant more space down the flanks
Stanislas: 6. Again was relatively quiet, hopefully, he is just getting minutes to get him back to form.
Stacey: N/A. Only came on for the last minute
Which afcb player had the most attempts on goal?
Solanke and brooks did their bits in working off the ball. Smith getting forward into space on the right dragged Norwich players out wider. – Join the conversation, click here.