Middlesbrough 0 Norwich City 1 report: Maddison wonder strike seals superb Riverside win
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James Maddison's superb first half strike sealed an impressive 1-0 Championship away win at Middlesbrough in a fifth consecutive league clean sheet for Daniel Farke's Norwich.
Maddison lashed a 22-yard shot beyond Darren Randolph and City then defended resolutely to protect the three points in the north-east.
Farke himself spoke on the eve of this game about the different dynamic to the task from getting the first crucial breakthrough. City funnelled back to protect Angus Gunn after Maddion’s rocket shot. Britt Assombalonga was well-policed by Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann for all bar one brief moment of alarm prior to the interval. Klose lost the predator long enough for a far post header to drop two yards from the City goalline. But it was Zimmermann who reacted quickest to slap the ball clear.
That is arguably the most impressive element of this defensive transformation since the last international break and those humbling trips to Aston Villa and Millwall. Norwich, as individuals and a collective, are far more attuned to danger. When Alex Tettey was caught the wrong side of the raiding home players, Tom Trybull was there to add ballast to the yellow wall.
When the dangerous Adama Traore threatened to cut loose James Husband could count on the extra support of Marley Watkins. There was a mirror image on the opposite flank, with Yanic Wildschut moving through the gears to protect Ivo Pinto. City out of possession appear to have the formula required. Those frustrating Carrow Road stalemates are inevitably a brake to more accelerated progress, but the base is far more solid and the development curve clear to everyone now approaching the second international break.
Such obduracy was filtered through a limited room for manoeuvre to Farke against what he labelled the title favourites.
The presence of Nelson Oliveira, Wes Hoolahan and Marco Stiepermann on the City substitutes’ bench carried a whiff of desperation. Farke had no wish to fast-track Oliveira back into his plans after a groin injury limited his recent involvement but it was needs must. Hoolahan and Stiepermann emerged from Saturday’s draw against Bristol City with fresh injury concerns but the incessant nature of Championship combat and the absence of some key senior figures guaranteed their inclusion at the Riverside.
Cameron Jerome spoke in almost reverential tones about the embarrassment of riches at Middlesbrough’s disposal prior to the game. It was difficult to argue when the team sheet confirmed the presence of Jonny Howson, not to mention a central defender in Ben Gibson who was reportedly coveted by Premier League suitors in the summer.
The Boro bench was packed with top flight experience in the shape of Grant Leadbitter and Ryan Shotton. Ashley Fletcher was purchased at considerable cost from West Ham. Patrick Bamford, a man with all the talent but a questionable temperament, was another in reserve for the hosts.
Yet there was very little discernible difference in quality.
Maddison turned provider early in the second half with a cute reverse pass for Jerome to burst into the box but Randolph parried his shot behind.
The home tide swelled again. Fletcher was introduced and the corner count rose. Assombalonga was left unmarked seven yards out but headed straight at Gunn. It was a rare lapse. Gunn then tipped over Baker’s late free kick to seal another brilliant defensive display.
• Boro: Randolph, Christie, Fry, Gibson, Fabio (Braithwaite 70), Clayton (Fletcher 60), Howson, Baker, Traore (Bamford 80), Johnson, Assombalonga. Subs (not used): Konstantopoulos (GK), Friend, Shotton, Leadbitter.
• Booking: Howson (foul on Maddison, 72)
• Norwich City: Gunn, Pinto, Zimmermann, Klose, Husband, Tettey, Trybull, Wildschut (Stiepermann 70), Maddison (Hanley 90), Watkins, Jerome (Oliveira 85). Subs (not used): McGovern (GK), Reed, Hoolahan, Franke.
• Bookings: Wildschut (foul on Assombalonga, 27); Pinto (foul on Traore, 56); Tettey (foul on Traore, 62); Stiepermann (foul on Baker, 82)
• Goal: Maddison (13)
• Time added on: 3 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire)
• Attendance: 24,084 (428 away fans)