Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Norwich City endured a nightmare start to their Championship campaign in a 1-0 defeat at Wolves soured by Martin Olsson’s second-half dismissal.
The Swedish international picked up a second yellow card on the hour mark after being out-paced by Rajiv Van La Parra, following his earlier first half lunge to cut down the impressive wide player.
Dave Edwards’ glanced Kenny Jackett’s side ahead four minutes after Olsson’s departure in a fully-deserved victory for the League One champions, with Norwich out-thought and out-fought for the majority of a disappointing afternoon at Molineux.
Neil Adams’ starting line up retained seven players from the side who faced Arsenal on the last day of the Premier League season. John Ruddy provided a reassuring presence behind a back four which included captain Russell Martin partnering Michael Turner at centre back, with Steven Whittaker and Olsson in the full-back berths.
Bradley Johnson anchored a midfield diamond featuring two old Wolves boys in Elliott Bennett and Andrew Surman.
Wes Hoolahan was deployed in his favoured position at the point of that midfield in the week he pledged his longer term future to the Canaries with Nathan Redmond pushed into a more advanced role alongside new summer signing Lewis Grabban.
Kyle Lafferty had to settle for a place on the bench alongside fit-again Alex Tettey with Josh Murphy also on duty. Republic of Ireland international Anthony Pilkington was omitted from the match day squad.
Wolves included Nouha Dicko in a lone front-running role after his summer transfer from Wigan, following a prolific spell to help fire Jackett’s squad to the League One title with 103 points.
Edwards’ sidefooted over from 10 yards inside the opening 50 seconds in a positive early incursion from Jackett’s side before Van La Parra cut inside Olsson and whipped a cross with too much pace for Dicko.
Elliott Bennett was sent crashing to the turf in a robust and illegal challenge from Richard Stearman but Johnson’s thumping free kick struck Kevin McDonald and the hosts cleared with ease.
Hoolahan’s first telling contribution fed Redmond who cut inside two back-pedalling Wolves’ defenders but dragged a low right-foot shot wide.
Michael Turner momentarily looked to have lost his bearings as Dicko sensed a chance to collect Bakary Sako’s lifted pass but the big centre back got a decisive touch allowing Ruddy to gather.
Carl Ikeme had the home fans panicking when he spilled Hoolahan’s pass in the 13th minute but Danny Batth was alert enough to hack away with Grabban in close attendance.
Wolves’ high pressing, high energy designed to disrupt City’s attempts at dictating through their passing game woven around Hoolahan was working in the opening quarter and that lack of precision was underlined by Surman’s wayward deep free kick after Elliott Bennett had worked a good position wide on the right.
Olsson then scythed through Van La Parra to earn the first Norwich caution of the new campaign just before the half-hour.
Wolves continued to display greater collective urgency, with Surman forced into a desperate clearance to foil Van La Parra as City struggled to relieve the growing pressure.
Olsson’s square pass across his own penalty box was pounced on by McDonald but Turner was out to smother the danger after another visible distress signal from the visitors.
City were now probing on counter-attacking scraps, but Redmond’s intended pass for Grabban was over-hit to prolong a worrying trend.
Martin’s positioning at his near post averted another sticky situation in the closing seconds of the opening half after Wolves had overloaded Whittaker’s right-flank.
Adams opted to keep the same personnel on duty at the start of the second period. Dicko rolled Whittaker but his ambitious strike was still rising when it reached Ruddy. City’s pressing harried Matt Doherty to pick out Hoolahan but the left-foot finish from 25 yards drifted wide.
Sako’s delicious cross bent around Norwich’s two centre backs just evaded Dicko positioned on the six-yard line in the 52nd minute after a sluggish resumption from both clubs.
Norwich threatened two minutes later when Redmond collected Whittaker’s hanging punt to feed Surman who drifted into the Wolves box but Stearman blocked his goalbound shot.
Grabban was then bizarrely allowed to race through to collect Martin’s raking pass but Ikeme got a touch to his angled shot on the corner of the six-yard box.
Hoolahan’s cheeky flick then found both Redmond and Grabban free just inside the Wolves area but Redmond elected to pull rank only to hammer over in the first real concerted spell of threatening play from Adams’ side.
But in the midst of Norwich’s most promising spell they were reduced to 10 men when Olsson was unable to keep pace with Van La Parra who tumbled on the edge of the Norwich box; referee Hooper having no hesitation to produce a second yellow for the Swede.
Hoolahan was sacrificed during the next passage of play with Javier Garrido slotting into the vacant left-back berth and Grabban switching to a lone role up top.
Edwards glanced Wolves in front in the midst of the chaos six yards out with a perfectly-timed leap to rise above Martin and despatch Van La Parra’s cross.
Elliott Bennett tried to reply with a curling long range effort that forced Ikeme to go airborne as it dropped just over the roof of his net.
Lafferty made his entrance in the 75th minute for Whittaker as City looked to defy the numerical advantage and peg Wolves back. The Northern Irishman’s first action saw him power away down the right before a cut-back Grabban miscued against Batth.
Ikeme was then out bravely at the feet of Grabban who looked favourite to apply a finishing touch to Lafferty’s flick around the corner.
Ruddy then kept Norwich’s slender hopes alive in the 80th minute with a sprawling stop with his legs after Dicko brushed aside Garrido to tee up Sako.
Jackett was clearly unimpressed with a minimum five minutes of additional time but his side suffered few alarms with Grabban thwarted from Ruddy’s deep free kick.
• Wolves: Ikeme, Doherty, Batth, Stearman, Golbourne, McDonald, Evans, Van La Parra (Henry 85), Edwards, Sako (Jacobs 81), Dicko (Clarke 87). Subs (not used): McCarey, Ricketts, Price, Ebanks-Landell.
• Goal: Edwards (64)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker (Lafferty 75), Martin, Turner, Olsson, Johnson, E Bennett, Surman (Tettey 65), Hoolahan (Garrido 63), Redmond, Grabban. Subs (not used): Rudd (GK), Loza, Josh Murphy, R Bennett.
• Bookings: Olsson (foul on Van La Parra, 26); Hoolahan (foul on Stearman, 54); Garrido (foul on Van La Parra, 83); Martin (handball, 90)
• Sending off: Olsson (foul on Van La Parra, 60)
• Added on time: 1 minute / 5 minutes
• Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)
• Attendance: 22,053