Norwich City managed a win on the road for only the second time in their last 17 attempts, as they beat Preston at Deepdale on Easter Monday.
Alan Irvine made five changes to the side so comfortably beaten by Fulham on Friday with injury ruling out Timm Klose (knee – estimate 10 days) and Alex Tettey (back). Wes Hoolahan was given the day off.
Neither side had anything but pride to play for, having both had lingering play-off hopes recently snuffed out and surprisingly, it was Norwich who controlled the first half.
There was zero atmosphere inside the stadium amongst a crowd of just 11,373 with around 600 odd travelling Canaries.
It was the home side that had the first real chance though when the returning Graham Dorrans was robbed in midfield by Callum Robinson. Aiden McGeady’s shot was blocked by the legs of John Ruddy and the follow up was deflected over by Russell Martin.
City then created several chances with Alex Pritchard in the thick of it. First, he set up Naismith but his ball wasn’t perfect and the Scot headed over. Pritchard then worked a corner set up with Dorrans, who fired over from 12 yards.
Next up was Cameron Jerome with an overhead kick that was straight at Preston ‘keeper, Maxwell.
It was Dorrans though, who opened the scoring on 28 minutes when he was set up by Naismith. The returning midfielder fired a low, arrow of a shot into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
City continued to create chances and Maxwell had to beat a fierce angled drive away from Pritchard before doubling the score on 40 minutes.
A swift counter attack saw Dijks overlap on the left and play a terrific pass into the corridor of uncertainty that reached Josh Murphy, ten yards from goal and central. He dispatched the ball past Maxwell and despite Pritchard then missing a on-on-one, City cruised into the second half two nil up, away from home.
It was pretty dull then until the 67th minute when Paul Gallagher’s free kick was headed hom by Tommy Spurr from 16 yards.
Naismith had to make a last ditched block tackle to stop Hugill from equalising and he screamed at the defence in the aftermath.
Preston continued to push and City were definitely on the back foot now.
On 79 minutes, Alan Irvine replaced Pritchard and Jerome with Oliveira and (making his league debut) James Maddison – Hallelujah!
With the clock ticking down, Howson tested Maxwell and then Hugill smashed a volley wide on 88 minutes.
Oliveira saw Maxwell save well, late on before Maddison sealed the points in the 92nd minute.
Naismith played him in and the debutant rolled the ball under the on-rushing Maxwell for his first Championship goal.
The Preston on display today were not as good as they were at Carrow Road last year and Norwich were considerably better than they were on that day too.
I took a little flak on Twitter on Monday morning when I suggested that this would be a good time to play the likes of Maddison and Ben Godfrey. Godfrey didn’t get on but he was on the bench.
‘Good thinking, may as well try and destroy a couple of kids by throwing them to the lions to complete a dodgy season’ responded a negative follower.
I like to think that Irvine and Maddison vindicated me with what they both did today. It was the right time and the right game to give Maddison a go. My follower should stick to worrying about the 3.15 at Kempton and his next acca, rather than football.
Next up are Champions elect, Brighton & Hove Albion – that will be an entirely different kettle of fish to this match and it’s live on Sky.
As pleased as I am that the Seagulls look like going up as Champions rather than Newcastle, it would be nice to be the party poopers on the night.