Academy boys complete the comeback as Canaries roar back to the Championship summit
Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons were the heroes of the hour as Norwich City's academy starlets played integral roles in firing the Canaries back to the top of the table in a spirited fightback from behind against Rotherham.
Richie Towell had taken advantage of a Tim Krul error to fire the well organised Millers into an early lead but Cantwell’s first senior goal in yellow and green brought Daniel Farke’s side level early in the second half.
Cantwell then crossed for Aarons to head in the crucial goal and top scorer Teemu Pukki made sure of the three points late on to climb back above Leeds.
City boss Daniel Farke made two changes, bringing in Mario Vrancic in place of Tom Trybull in the continued absence of Moritz Leitner in central midfield due to a calf problem. Todd Cantwell also returned on the left in place of the injured Onel Hernandez.
The hosts dominated possession early on but the visitors pounced on a Krul error in the 12th minute, when a Will Vaulks shot from 25 yards after a short corner was spilled by the Dutchman and the loose ball was turned home by Towell from close range.
Millers skipper Vaulks leathered a shot just over five minutes later after Christoph Zimmermann had headed a corner away, with the visitors starting to enjoy themselves in the steady rain.
It was so nearly 2-0 in the 19th minute when Zimmermann scythed down Joe Newell on the edge of the City box and Ryan Williams picked up the loose ball before his low drive thumped against Krul’s right-hand post.
The home crowd were frustrated but urging the Canaries forward but went close to a response in the 27th minute when the tenacious Teemu Pukki kept an attack alive and Jamal Lewis crossed low from the left, only for a fine block from Joe Mattock to deny Marco Stiepermann’s close-range blast.
Cantwell won a couple of free-kicks on the edge of the Rotherham box before the break but Mario Vrancic’s effort deflected off the wall and wide, and Emi Buendia’s attempt dipped too late as it flew over the crossbar.
The Canaries upped the tempo after the break though and it took 10 minutes for Cantwell to finally score the first goal for his boyhood club that he’s been so desperate for, in his 14th appearance.
Vrancic dinked a ball to the right side of the box, which Pukki kept alive before crossing low to allow Dereham’s favourite son to fire high into the far corner from close range and spark the chants of ‘he’s one of our own!’.
Vrancic saw a free-kick charged down in the 62nd minute but lashed the rebound low through a crowded box and just beyond the far post – before Cantwell took charge of matters again.
It was a goal made in the academy at Colney, with Lewis teeing up Cantwell to cross from the left in the 71st minute and Aarons busting a gut to get across his man and nod a deft header beyond Rodak from close range, to launch the celebrations at Carrow Road as the comeback was completed.
Chances to put the game to bed twice went begging for Pukki, being threaded in by Buendia in the 77th minute but poking wide and then similarly a minute later, after Buendia’s shot was spilled, could only turn beyond the far post.
It was third time lucky for the Finn though, to score his 11th league goal of the campaign, after Stiepermann superbly robbed Semi Ajayi and rolled his striker in to slot home easily from 10 yards.
Pukki should have had a quick-fired double when he was rolled clean through by substitute Tom Trybull, but could only fire against the diving keeper. Trybull then repeated the trick in injury-time, Marek Rodak denying him with a fine save from point-blank range – as the thrilled home faithful roared their team off the pitch at full-time.
The Canaries return to action with another home game, when they host another of the division’s lowly sides, Bolton Wanderers.
Norwich: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Klose, Lewis (Rhodes 87); Tettey (C), Vrancic (Trybull 89); Buendia, Stiepermann, Cantwell; Pukki (Godfrey 90+3). Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Marshall, Passlack, Srbeny
Goals: Cantwell (55), Aarons (71), Pukki (84)
Rotherham: Rodak; Vyner, Ajayi, Robertson (Wood 46), Mattock; Forde (Proctor 73), Vaulks (C), Towell, Newell (Taylor 42); Williams; Smith. Unused subs: Price (GK), Jones, Wiles, Manning
Goals: Towell (12)
Referee: Stephen Martin