Cardiff City 2 Norwich City 1
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Norwich City contrived to lose a Premier League match they controlled for long periods in a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City.
Robert Snodgrass slammed the visitors in front inside the opening five minutes but Cardiff struck twice in the space of 80 seconds after the restart - former Canary Craig Bellamy and new boy Kenwyne Jones on the mark - before surviving an incessant barrage from the Canaries in the final quarter. David Marshall superbly denied Nathan Redmond and Leroy Fer before Snodgrass struck a post in a prolonged assault from Chris Hughton’s men that failed to cancel out their sluggish start to the second period at the Cardiff City stadium.
Hughton made three changes from the starting line up that ground out a 0-0 Premier League midweek draw against Newcastle. Alex Tettey returned for his first start since ankle surgery in the corresponding league fixture before Christmas. Jonas Gutierrez was also preferred to Anthony Pilkington on the left of midfield with Fer dropping out. Hughton opted to tinker with his front two by recalling Johan Elmander for Ricky van Wolfswinkel in a revised shape to the more recognisable two up top during recent weeks.
Cardiff chief Ole Gunnar Solksjaer handed debuts to both Fabio and Jones but Manchester United loanee Wilfried Zaha had to settle for a place on the bench.
John Ruddy was pressed into action inside 70 seconds when he dropped on Jordan Mutch’s ambitious bicycle kick following a penetrative burst down the right from Craig Noone and Fabio. Gutierrez responded with a glancing header from a cross which was slightly behind the Argentine international following Russell Martin’s overlapping run outside Robert Snodgrass.
The visitors took the lead in the fifth minute when Martin Olsson escaped undetected to collect Bradley Johnson’s pass and pick out the unmarked Snodgrass who swept home from six yards. Cardiff’s confidence visibly evaporated following such an early concession with Johnson’s rising sidefoot strike on his left drifting over after Elmander was allowed too much time to bring a hanging cross down inside the Bluebirds’ penalty box.
Cardiff gradually recovered their composure with Noone’s sublime inside pass tempting Mutch but he poked wide on the stretch at the far post.
Ryan Bennett earned a needless caution in the 13th minute after his initial weak touch was compounded by a clear foul on Bellamy just inside the Norwich half. Ruddy gathered Gary Medel’s speculative long range effort but fresh home hesitancy allowed Gary Hooper and Snodgrass to combine but Steven Caulker cleared the gathering danger. Martin’s commitment to try and pin Mutch back inside his own half underlined the flow of the opening quarter, with the home crowd growing audibly restless as Hughton’s side soaked up pressure and looked to probe on the counter.
Noone was Cardiff’s most dangerous operator with one sharp swivel taking him away from the close attentions of Tettey but his whipped left foot strike flew wide with Ruddy fully committed diving to his left.
Sebastien Bassong’s defensive instincts averted potential danger in the 30th minute when Medel cut a low cross back from the byline, but the visitors earned a slice of fortune from the corner when Johnson’s miscued clearance bisected a posse of players in red.
Tettey incurred Mark Clattenburg’s wrath in the 32nd minute when he hauled down Medel 22 yards out - but Peter Whittingham lashed the free kick high into the Norwich away support.
Hughton’s men broke out of their defensive shape to launch a counter with Gutierrez feeding Snodgrass who linked with the marauding Martin to eventually tee up Johnson, but the midfielder’s strike was deflected behind. Whittingham pulled a left footed attempt wide at the opposite end but that was his final contribution as Solksjaer hooked the midfielder for the precociously-talented Zaha with five minutes left until half-time. Cardiff continued to ratchet up the pressure with Clattenburg incurring Hughton’s wrath after failing to spot a clear tug on Olsson but the visitors reached the interval with their early lead intact.
But Cardiff stormed back at the start of the second period to turn the match completely on its head. Hooper’s intended square pass across his own penalty box was cut out by Zaha who rolled in Bellamy to rifle underneath the body of the advancing Ruddy.
Norwich then survived another goalmouth scramble in the seconds that followed but the Bluebirds took the lead from the resulting corner when Jones climbed above Martin and then slammed a volley from point blank range into the roof of the net when it fortuitously dropped down to the striker. Johnson was only denied by Marshall’s finger tip save onto his bar when he unleashed a 23 yard strike on his left during a breathless start to the second period.
Jones then inadvertently diverted Mutch’s strike against the base of Ruddy’s right-hand post but there was more than a suspicion of offside about the debutant’s positioning inside the Norwich penalty box.
Snodgrass connected twice with inviting Olsson’s deliveries but on both occasions the Scottish midfielder was left shaking his head after failing to test Marshall before Elmander hooked wide when he was allowed to advance fully 10 yards to the edge of the Bluebirds’ box.
Hughton made a triple substitution with Fer, Redmond and van Wolfswinkel all introduced for the final 15 minutes and the Dutchman was straight into the action when he miscued Snodgrass’ cross 12 yards out. Redmond did lash past Marshall a minute later but the wide player was correctly ruled offside.
Marshall then brilliantly denied Redmond in the 80th minute when he clawed out the midfielder’s fearsome low strike before Bellamy’s scrambling header off his own line kept out Hooper’s flick with the hosts’ desperately trying to preserve their lead.
Martin’s far post volley then clipped Caulker and dropped a yard over as Norwich pinned the Bluebirds back. City’s former keeper denied Norwich again in the 85th minute when he blocked Fer’s towering close range header from Snodgrass’ free kick with Norwich permanently camped on the edge of the home penalty area. Snodgrass headed against Marshall’s near post from Redmond’s corner as the siege showed no signs of abating before Bassong headed over on the six yard line deep in stoppage time from the tireless Snodgrass’ cross.
• Cardiff: Marshall, Fabio (Theophile-Catherine 75), Caulker, Turner, John; Whittingham (Zaha 38), Medel, Mutch (Gunnarsson 67), Noone; Bellamy, Jones. Subs (not used): Lewis; Campbell, Eikrem, Daehli.
• Booking: Noone (foul on Gutierrez, 59).
• Goals: Bellamy (49); Jones (51)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, R Bennett, Bassong, Olsson, Snodgrass, Tettey, Johnson (Fer 75), Gutierrez (Redmond 75), Elmander (van Wolfswinkel 75), Hooper. Subs (not used): Bunn, Whittaker, Pilkington, Becchio.
• Bookings: Bennett (foul on Bellamy, 13); Elmander (unsportsmanlike conduct, 24); Tettey (foul on Medel, 32); Snodgrass (dissent, 90).
• Goal: Snodgrass (5)
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Durham)
• Attendance: 26,748