CHRIS Hughton's Norwich City earned an impressive 1-1 draw with Dutch champions Ajax in front of a crowd of over 16,000 at Carrow Road on Tuesday night.
It was another good run-out for City as they were made to work hard by the European giants, but came out with a more than creditable draw in arguably their toughest pre-season test so far.
Anthony Pilkington put the Canaries ahead with a stunning free kick in the seventh minute, however the visitors struck back with a goal of equal brilliance from Lasse Schone on the half-hour.
Hughton named both Grant Holt and the in-form James Vaughan in attack for the Canaries, backed up by a midfield four of Anthony Pilkington, Elliott Bennett, Jonny Howson, and Bradley Johnson.
Russ Martin, Elliott Ward, Ryan Bennett, and Marc Tierney made up John Ruddy
’s defence, whilst new signing Robert Snodgrass started on the bench against a strong Ajax side captained by Gregory Van Der Wiel.
Ajax flew out of the blocks and could have been ahead after all of two minutes courtesy of Christian Eriksen, after he got a flick on a Jody Lukoki pass, only to see it rattle the crossbar.
City soon sprung into life however when Vaughan’s pace took him away from Joel Veltman at the back, however the defender cynically hauled him down on the edge of the area to concede the free kick.
Pilkington took it right-footed from a central position, and Ajax ‘keeper Jasper Cillissen could only watch as the ball flew past him and into the top corner to make it 1-0.
Vaughan was a constant thorn in Ajax’s side, and drew several fouls in promising positions in the final third, however it was the visitors who were seeing the majority of the ball in the opening stages, with Eriksen going close with a long ranger on 18 minutes.
The Ajax pressure soon paid dividends however as they drew level on the half-hour mark. Midfielder Schone spotted an opening and unleashed an unstoppable effort with his right foot from 25 yards that flew like a missile into the top corner, giving Ruddy no chance.
Both sides struggled to create many clear cut chances as the half drew to a close, with Vaughan and Holt still combining well up front for City, but unable to force another goal against the four-time European champions.
HALF-TIME: City 1, Ajax 1
Hughton made just the one change at half time, with Vaughan being replaced by Wes Hoolahan, whilst Van Der Wiel and Eriksen made way for Vurnon Anita and Ruben Ligeon for Ajax.
The visitors started the half brightly again, and City could have fallen behind had Johnson not been alert to the danger following a cut back from Dico Koppers and charged down Thulani Serero's shot in the 49th minute.
Ajax were keeping the ball well, and almost caught City unawares in the 57th minute with a long ball over the top of the defence. Kukoki’s pace bought him a yard on the City back-line, and he was able to touch the ball past Ruddy, only to see Ryan Bennett track back brilliantly to clear the ball off the line.
City looked to hit the Dutch champions on the counter attack in the second as they soaked up the pressure well, but lone striker Holt wasn’t able to test Cillessen, while at the other end Serero saw two efforts go well wide.
In the 69th minute huge cheers went up around Carrow Road as Snodgrass entered the fray at the expense of Elliott Bennett, his first appearance in a City shirt.
Andrew Surman and Andrew Crofts were also brought on by Hughton for the final 20 minutes as both sides pushed for a decisive goal.
Snodgrass immediately tried to combine with Holt from the right flank, but the captain was blocked off by Koppers as City struggled to break down a solid Dutch defence.
With ten minutes to go the visitors broke down the left through Lorenzo Ebicilio, however striker Davy Klaassen’s ambitious overhead kick made only a slight contact and City were able to clear the danger.
Steve Morison and Simon Lappin then replaced Holt and Tierney as the game began to drift towards a draw, although Ajax almost snathed it late on through substitute Siem De Jong’s header, which deflected narrowly wide off Lappin at the far post.
That was to be the last chance of the game as the referee blew for full-time on a 1-1 draw.
FULL-TIME: City 1, Ajax 1
CITY - Ruddy, R. Martin (Ayala 80), Johnson, Vaughan (Hoolahan 46), Holt (c) (Morison 78), Pilkington (Crofts 69), E. Bennett (Snodgrass 69), Ward (Barnett 80), Tierney (Lappin 86), Howson (Surman 69), R. Bennett
SUBS - Rudd, Morison, Crofts, Jackson, Surman, Hoolahan, C. Martin, Lappin, Barnett, Snodgrass, Ayala
AJAX - Cillessen, Van Der Wiel (c), Eriksen, Ebecilio, Klaassen, Schone, Serero, Koppers, Lukoki, Veltman, Denswil
SUBS - Vermer, Alderweireld, Anita, De Jong, Ozbiliz, Van Rhikn, Ligeon