Norwich United 2 v 2 Grays Athletic
THE Blues failed to produce their best form, in a stuttering performance where only the opening and closing quarters of the match saw them at their most dangerous. They never had the conviction to build on a positive start and just like the previous two away days they failed to capitalise on their dominance in front of goal, let down in part by the delay and then quality of ball into the danger area, combined with a reluctance to get a shot on target when the opportunity arose. Failure to hold onto a lead allowed Norwich to find a foothold in a game that – had Blues taken the chances on offer – would have seen them come away with the three points. It could have been worse, but for a great penalty save by Lamar Johnson, one of three awarded by an official who appeared to be on first name terms with the home team!!
From the kick off Blues confidently took the game to their hosts forcing a corner in the opening minutes. Kieran Bishop set up a great opportunity for Joao Carlos whose downward header looked bound for the bottom corner, only to see home keeper Andy Wilton acrobatically turn the ball behind. Dennis Oli and Carlos looked menacing going forward for Blues, with Oli finding space to hit a crisp shot that drifted wide of the upright. Blues were now establishing a measure of control, with Stan Muguo again beavering away in midfield, but despite the pressure the home goal held firm.
Johnson was called into action for the first time, when a Norwich free kick saw him leave his line and claim the ball confidently. It was business as usual at the other end though when James Folkes played in Carlos – his effort saved by Wilton.
Norwich didn’t crumble under the early pressure and gradually came back into the game, Blues clearly having eased off the pace. Ben Jones escaped the attentions of Ryan Mahal, closing on goal, he should have done better blasting wildly over. Another chance presented itself when Liam Jackson sent in a searching low cross, which just eluded the foot of Tim Henery.
With the game now more of an even contest, Blues managed to get their noses in front in the 34th minute. A quick break saw Bishop race into the Norwich penalty area, where he was unceremoniously bundled to the ground. The striker converted the spot kick sending Wilton the wrong way.
Now was the time for Blues to up the tempo and impose themselves, but they failed to do so, appearing to play within themselves. A late flurry saw opportunity for Carlos, who fired wide and a Tommy Wade header suffering a similar fate. Ade Cole produced the last opportunity of the half, with an ambitious shot from 30 yards, lacking venom, sailing harmlessly over.
The first action on resumption saw a Norwich free kick saved by Johnson who quickly released Carlos, racing to the byeline his cross just failed to make contact with the head of Bishop. The striker then set up a chance for Cole but he failed to hit the target.
A quick Norwich break saw Jackson outpace Richard Halle, but he missed the target hitting the side netting. Shortly after in the 55th minute they were given a life line, when Mahal handled under pressure from a free kick. Up stepped Jackson, but his kick lacked conviction and accuracy allowing Johnson to make a fine save.
There then followed a hectic six minute period, which saw three goals. The Planters were awarded a second spot kick under controversial circumstances. Blues had come under increasing pressure, the 64th minute produced another Norwich raid, a ball into the box saw it run loose. Johnson was quickest to react beating Jackson to it. The keeper dropped on the ball, Jackson went to ground with the referee adjudging he had been impeded and awarded a penalty. Leading scorer Adam Hipperson took the kick and made no mistake striking past Johnson.
Blues quickly replied in the shape of Halle, who got on the end of a Carlos cross but missed the target with the goal gaping. It was a momentary reprieve for Norwich, when in the 67th minute Blues edged in front again. Cole picked the ball up just inside the Norwich half and rolled a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Carlos, who calmly slotted the ball past Wilton.
Norwich – not to be outdone – restored parity in the 70th minute, a corner was slung over to the far post finding the unmarked Nathan Stewart, who volleyed past Johnson into the bottom corner.
Blues created a chance for Wade when he nodded a Cole cross wide, sub Barry Cogan squandered an opening when he elected to pass when a shot was the better option. For a time Blues play became disjointed, allowing Norwich to retain possession. Belatedly, Blues displayed the urgency shown in the opening twenty minutes of the first half. Wave after wave of attacks rained down on the home goal without producing a clear cut opportunity. Crosses were delayed, allowing Norwich to funnel back and defend in numbers. When the ball was delivered it lacked quality, allowing Norwich to clear comfortably. Blues tried as they might, but couldn’t squeeze out a win and in the end had to settle for a point.
Blues would have been disappointed with the draw, seeing it as three points lost rather one gained, but it does extend their unbeaten run to five and since the turn of the year they have lost only two of eleven league games.
Next Saturday sees a trip to near neighbours Brentwood who recorded a 1-0 win at Parkside earlier in the season.
Johnson, Mahal,Finneran, Halle, Folkes, Muguo, Oli (Cogan 60), Cole,Carlos,Bishop, Wade.
Subs not used: Joe Simmonds, Jamie Stuart, Callum Thompson,Furu Gogo-Ibiama
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