The under-23s suffered an unfortunate defeat to West Brom in the Premier League 2 Division 2 on Friday, despite putting on an impressive second-half performance.
The game kicked-off in exciting fashion for the young Canaries, who swiftly saw the visitors feel the pressure of playing the City way. Their high-press philosophy encouraged an error on the edge of the West Brom box as early as the seventh minute, with Philip Heise stepping up to deliver. A collective gasp filled the stand, as the effort scathed the crossbar.
In case that effort wasn’t enough to wake the visitors up, a run down the wing by midfielder Daniel Adshead was. The young prospect effortlessly beat three West Brom men, before having the decisive cross blocked, saving the West Midlands side going down a goal within the first ten minutes.
From this point, the Baggies had to answer with something of their own. A run at the defenders by Jamie Soule ended with the striker cutting in on his right before lacing the ball at goal. Unfortunately for Soule, Archie Mair was ready between the sticks, diving to the ball like an acrobat.
City were thriving in the first 15 minutes, dominating possession with short and quick passes to maneuver up the pitch. The defence was airtight too, with perfect tackles being made, stifling any West Brom effort.
The young Canaries next effort wasn’t far, with a sublime series of passes and dummies ending up with Heise one-on-one with the ‘keeper, Brad House. Heise tried to beat the shotstopper, but House did well to make himself big and block the attempt, leaving the first 20 minutes surprisingly goalless.
Although an Academy side, the U23s weren’t without their experienced players, having both Heise and Patrick Roberts on the pitch to support them. Roberts made it clear as to why he is a first-team player, delivering neat passes in tight areas and finding space out of nowhere. He did just that in the 31st minute, putting Adam Idah through on goal, who’s shot seemed certain to beat the ‘keeper until it was tipped over the bar from his fingertips. Certain it was a goal, another murmur came from the crowd, but this time ending in a sigh when the realisation hit.
A goal finally came, but against all odds not in City’s favour. A run at the City defence ended in a shot at Mair, who wonderfully saved it again, tipping it wide. Unfortunately, Nick Clayton-Phillips was there to receive it, settling the ball in an open goal. The score had just opened up, but not how the young Canaries were hoping. They fought back with energy, but West Brom held out until the whistle went, indicating the end of the first 45 minutes.
As the second-half began, West Brom were the ones bringing the fight. In the 49th minute a run from the visitors beat the City defenders, ending with Finn Azaz tucking the ball away effortlessly, raising the score once more. The one goal deficit was hard enough to recover, but it just got a lot more threatening for the home side.
Playing off this momentum, West Brom became ruthless, constantly running the City defenders. These efforts had to pay off eventually, seeing Jamie Soule slot the ball in the far corner, far out of the reach of Mair. Three goals to nothing, a big ask of the Canaries to comeback from this.
For any side, it may have seemed like West Brom had just dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s in scoring a third, but not the young Canaries side. A series of passes crawling up the pitch ended in Isak Thorvaldsson setting up substitute Gassan Ahadme in front of goal. Ahadme was wasting no time, nor chances, certain to close the gap by one by lacing the ball to the back of the net.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, City were back to the form they had in the first 20 minutes. Yet another tidy series of play followed, with the West Brom defence unable to keep up with the pace and constant shifting of direction in the passes. Although a goal was lacking, it filled the home side with the confidence they needed.
Consistent efforts pay off, and this was proven by Roberts in the 76th minute. A through-ball saw the experienced player facing goal, with just a ‘keeper in his way, which was no problem for the winger who buried it over the shotstopper’s head. A comeback felt on the cards, with how the young Canaries recovered, anything felt possible.
Just as the atmosphere was feeling right, and a point was up for grabs, tragedy came knocking. A ball over the top of the City defence found substitute Stanley Asomugha through on goal. A scuffed effort barely left the player’s foot, rolling towards goal. Mair attempted a dive, but slipped on the wet pitch, unable to get his hand to it. A heartbreaking moment for the U23s, and a score of 4-2 sealed West Brom’s gain of three points by the final whistle.
Norwich City U23s: Mair, Thomas, Nizet (Martin), Omobamidele, Lomas, Milovanovic, Roberts, Adshead, Idah (Ahadme), Thorvaldsson (c), Heise
Subs not used: Johnson, Fitzpatrick, Scully
Bookings: Thorvaldsson (71)
Goals: Ahadme (69), Roberts (76)
West Bromwich Albion U23s: House, Meredith, Harmon, Martinez, Fitzwater (c), Harper, Clayton-Phillips, Azaz (Wilding), Soule (Asomugha), Tulloch (Brown), Willock
Subs not used: Brown, Boruc, Shotton
Bookings: Finn Azaz (58)
Goals: Clayton-Phillips (33), Finn Azaz (49), Soule (54), Asomugha (85)
Referee: Alan Dale
Kick off time: 7pm
Venue: Lotus Training Centre