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Match review – Norwich City 0-1 Middlesbrough

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Middlesbrough won 1-0 at Carrow Road in what was a massive game at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.

Boro won 1-0

Boro won 1-0

Boro led deservedly after a fast start, as Alex Tettey headed into his own net from a Grant Leadbitter corner in the ninth minute.

Norwich missed a crucial headed chance through Jonny Howson midway through the first-half that proved pivotal, with the game played at a frantic tempo throughout.

The visitors backline was as resolute as one would expect of a side with the best defensive record in the division, meaning that the home side holding the majority of possession and territory ultimately never came to anything.

The result halts the Canaries promotion charge that had seen Alex Neil’s side claim five straight wins, whilst Boro now have six wins from the past eight.

Two more from their last two games will take Aitor Karanka’s men to the Premier League, after a result that probably leaves the home side having to reluctantly settle for a play-off spot.

This was an entertaining match, in which both teams produced spells of high-quality passing football that suggests they would certainly be capable of coping with the potential step up to the Premier League next season.

Alex Neil had made one change from the side that made it five successive wins in in claiming a 2-0 success at Leeds in midweek, as Bradley Johnson returned in  midfield for Nathan Redmond.

Meanwhile Middlesbrough made two changes to the team that overcame Wolves 2-1 on Tuesday as former Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala came in for Jonathan Woodgate, whilst Grant Leadbitter replaced Adam Forshaw.

The visitors utterly dominated the opening 15 minutes, in contrast to various recent away displays, such as at Watford and Bournemouth, where they have struggled to attain early momentum.

Middlesbrough had the first chance as a corner was not cleared and the ball fell for winger Albert Adomah on the right. The former Bristol City winger cut inside before delivering a teased cross that Patrick Bamford flicked on for Jelle Vossen, who was well placed but could only fire over.

Middlesbrough threatened again as Lee Tomlin played Bamford in behind, with the cross well intercepted by onrushing centre-half Sebastian Bassong. However, the resultant corner from Leadbitter was inadvertently glanced into his own net by Tettey at the near post when under pressure from Vosen, giving Middlesbrough a fully deserved lead in the ninth minute.

Middlesbrough had further opportunities, with the lively Lee Tomlin forcing a save by John Ruddy from an acute angle which the keeper nearly made a mess of. Meanwhile Bamford, looking to add to his 17 Championship goals this season, forced a regulation save after breaking free down the inside left channel.

Midway through the first-half Norwich finally started to find their feet, primarily through the initiative and positivity of intent from Wes Hoolahan, who headed over from a deep cross by Martin Olsson. The playmaker then orchestrated a move from the Canaries own penalty area that ended in a glaring missed opportunity.

Stephen Whittaker crossed diagonally from the right to Bradley Johnson, who leapt well to head the ball into the penalty area for the onrushing Jonny Howson.

The midfielder, fresh from netting a beautiful effort at his former clubs Leeds last time out, was just six yards out, but headed just wide of the right post. In a game where the loses would almost certainly be forced to settle for a play-off spot, the magnitude of this chance was difficult to overstate.

Soon afterwards Hoolahan was again creator-in-chief, beating two down the right before setting up Howson, whose right-footed effort was blocked, with Whittaker’s cross ultimately coming to nothing.

The first-half was played at a frenetic pace, with Middlesbrough having another chance despite the home sides improvement, as an intelligent back-heel from Vossen set the pacy Adomah free. However, the winger could only fire wastefully over under pressure from Canaries skipper Russell Martin.

The Canaries had responded impressively to the visitors, but despite some good probing and passing football on multiple occasions were unfortunate in the ball falling to a red-and-white shirt in the box.

Nothing demonstrated this better than a deep free-kick from West Bromwich Albion loanee graham Dorrans, which beat Dimi Konstantantopoulos but was scrambled away, whilst a Whittaker shot also tested the Middlesbrough stopper.

In first-half stoppage time Hoolahan when down under what could be mostly kindly described as highly exaggerated contact inside the Boro box, rightly receiving a yellow card for simulation that marred his excellent display.

The second half continued at the same unrelenting pace that defined the opening one, with Bamford finding space on the right early on and shooting low across Ruddy, who saved smartly. However, this proved a rare foray forward  for Boro, with the Canaries quickly establishing control of both territory and possession.

Similarly to the opening period, for all the home sides intelligent build-up play, the final ball was just lacking, to the increasing frustration of home players and fans alike. Typically of the visitors this season, they held their shape and were defensively resolute

Middlesbrough, having looked in such control throughout the early periods of the match, looked anxious and fraught in possession, leaving them rarely able to exit their own half.

Just after the hour striker Lewis Grabban came on for Graham Dorrans as the Canaries looked to inject fresh attacking impetus, though to their credit the away side defended with diligence and intelligence.

Boro threatened on the counter-attack with just under twenty minutes left, as Kalas fed Tomlin,  who darted confidently past one before firing a right-footed drive just wide of Ruddy’sleft-hand post.

Hoolahan remained a danger, breaking out on the counter-attack only to be hauled down by Adam Clayton for an obvious booking as the home crowd grew increasingly nervous heading into the last 15 minutes.

The game had been billed as win or bust for both sides automatic promotion hopes, understandably leading to Neil uses his resources, as Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond entered the fray for Hoolahan and Dorrans.

Seven minutes of stoppage time and multiple Norwich corners only added to the drama, including an excellent block by Ben Gibson from a Russell Martin shot, meaning ultimately the home side where left utterly frustrated.

Boro march on, and on this evidence they are certainly worthy of promotion, evident primarily through their superb and stubborn defence. Meanwhile, the Canaries are probably consigned to preparing for the lottery of the Championship play-offs.

Goal(s): Alex Tettey own goal 9,

Referee: R Madley

Attendance: 26,933

Norwich (4-2-3-1): Ruddy, Whittaker, Martin (cpt), Bassong, Olsson; Dorrans (Grabban 82), Tettey, Dorrans; Howson, Hoolahan (Redmond 78), Johnson (Hooper 78); Jerome.

Subs not used: Rudd (Gk), R.Bennett, O’Neil, Odjidja-Ofoe

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Konstantopoulos; Kalas, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Adomah, Leadbitter (cpt), Clayton, Tomlin; Vossen, Bamford.

Subs not used: Ripley (Gk), Kike, Whitehead, Reach, Nsue, Amorebieta, Foreshaw.

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