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9 January 2015

Academy side share spoils with Red Devils

NORWICH City's Development Squad produced an impressive performance as they played out a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in the Barclays Under-21s Premier League at Carrow Road on Friday night.

Almost 10,000 fans were in attendance as a youthful Canaries side more than held their own against the Old Trafford outfit, having responded excellently to a confident start from their opponents to take a first half lead through Adel Gafaiti.

They were pegged back after the interval by a superb Josh Harrop finish, but created a number of openings throughout as they tested the Red Devils' defensive resolve.

The visiting side controlled possession for the majority of the early stages, but found themselves restricted well by the Canaries until Nick Powell came close to latching onto a speculative ball over the top of the home defence in the 7th minute.

City survived that scare, and moments later went close themselves when they countered expertly to set Jamar Loza beyond the United back-line, only for the Jamaican international to prod narrowly wide of Ben Amos' right-hand post as he advanced into the penalty-area.

It would be United who threatened next on 20 minutes, with goalkeeper Remi Matthews called into meaningful action for the first time as he reacted smartly to deflect Jesse Lingard's close-range volley behind after the winger had been picked out in space by a deep cross from the left.

Once again though, the hosts responded impressively, and took the lead six minutes later when centre-back Gafaiti rose highest to nod home Ray Grant's delicately clipped free-kick following a foul on Loza just outside the penalty-area.

Buoyed by that goal, a series of slick passing moves looked likely to cause the visitors further problems before the break, with Cameron McGeehan's frequent bursts from midfield creating space for his colleagues in advanced positions.

Such space was almost exploited in the 37th minute when Reece Hall-Johnson charged down the right flank and cut across the area looking for Loza, but the City striker found himself outnumbered and couldn't make a clean connection with the ball as it flashed across his path in the last meaningful action of the opening period.

HALF-TIME: Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United

The Red Devils looked to get themselves back on level terms early in the second half, and four minutes after the restart good combination play between James Weir and Will Keane ended with the former striding into the area and curling inches wide of the post.

City should have doubled their advantage soon after when captain Conor McGrandles could only head wide from an unmarked position at the back-post, and they were punished on 53 minutes when United midfielder Harrop fired home an emphatic strike from distance to restore parity.

Further tidy interplay in the final third from the away side presented Powell with the opportunity to move inside from the left wing on the hour-mark, but his low effort was comfortably gathered by Matthews.

As had been the theme for much of the contest, it was soon City's turn to go on the front foot as Loza collected a long pass before hitting an instinctive first-time shot on the run from 25 yards which flew just over. 

United then made their first change of the evening as Callum Evans replaced the injured Andreas Pereira on 67 minutes, with the substitute wasting little time in earning his side a corner when his devilish left-footed cross was headed behind by Michee Efete; Matthews claiming the eventual set-piece with ease.

By contrast, the hosts were asking questions of the United defence at every dead-ball opportunity as a succession of deliveries from Grant came close to carving out a second opening for the young Canaries.

Those situations were coming with increasing regularity largely thanks to McGeehan's continued charges through the middle, but having won a 75th minute free-kick himself, the 19-year-old could only loop well over.

A series of substitutions for both sides followed as the game moved into the closing stages, with the visitors replacing Lingard with Ashley Fletcher ahead of a double City change seeing Louis Ramsay and Todd Cantwell take to the field in place of Cameron Norman and Grant respectively.

With time ticking down, the home side had a great opportunity to snatch victory in the 85th minute when an intelligent flick from Hall-Johnson created the space for a cross to be pulled back into Sam Kelly's path six yards from goal, but he was denied by a last-ditch block from a collection of United defenders with Amos committed.

That would prove to be their last clear chance of claiming all three points however, and instead it was United who could have secured victory deep into injury-time when Keane raced onto a through-ball in the final seconds only to loft well over the crossbar from a one-on-one situation.

FULL TIME: Norwich City 1-1 Manchester United

GOALS: Canaries: Adel Gafaiti (27) - Manchester United:  Josh Harrop (53)

NORWICH CITY: Matthews (GK); Hall-Johnson (Byrne-Hewitt, 89), Efete, McGeehan, McFadden, Gafaiti, Norman (Ramsay, 81), McGrandles (c), Loza, Grant (Cantwell, 81), Kelly. Subs not used: Oxborough (GK), Eaton-Collins.

MANCHESTER UNITED:  Amos (GK); Grimshaw, Love, Harrop, Vermijl (c), Weir, Janko, Powell, Keane, Pereira (Evans, 67), Lingard (Fletcher, 78). Subs not used: O'Hara (GK), Willock.


Cardiff City - Saturday January 17, 3pm

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