Norwich City's pre-season tour to Holland tonight ended in a narrow, 2-1 defeat to FC Zwolle – a small, grey cloud that at least came with the small silver lining of a first City goal for Czech new-boy David Strihavka.
That monkey is, at least off, his back. Of more concern now will be a second-half injury to on-loan Chelsea youngster Jimmy Smith who was gingerly lifted from the field after three minutes of attention – and all with what appeared to be a heavy whack to his left ankle following an equally heavy challenge. That City boss Peter Grant could seriously do without.
As tonight's second game kicked off on what was a sultry night in central Holland, so the Canaries boasted one new face and another new formation for this evening's contest.
In goal Matt Gilks made his Canary debut after his free transfer switch this summer from Rochdale, while – formation-wise – City went all 4-3-1-2 with Luke Chadwick the one assigned the lonely role in the hole behind Strihavka and Jamie Cureton.
With Jason Shackell reported to have picked up a slight hamstring strain in training and Julien Brellier still out with a thigh strain, it all meant there was plenty of room at the inn for Dion Dublin alongside Gary Doherty as well as for Youssef Safri in centre-midfield who had Smith for company to his right; Simon Lappin to his left.
As for their hosts, Zwolle managed to finish seventh in the Dutch equivalent of the Championship last season – Saturday's opponents Apeldoorn were relegated. As such they probably provided Norwich's stiffest test of the summer thus far.
It actually took all of eight minutes for Grant's new shape to bear fruit – and in some style, too.
Chadwick made full use of his free, floating role to drive forward through the inside right channel, just as Cureton peeled back into the vacant hole in search of the ball.
Once found, a wonderful ball between Zwolle centre-half and full-back found Chadwick on the run and free; his low cross left Strihavka with the width of an empty goal to aim at and he didn't disappoint – sweeping the ball home with his left foot from the penalty spot. Though the 24-year-old's celebrations were suitably muted, you could see the relief spreading across his face.
For if Grant had one wish before kick-off it would have been to give his new Czech striker a goal; Cureton and Chadwick between them, duly did the manager's bidding.
Not that it was wholly one-way traffic. Albert van der Haar smashed a 25-yard free-kick against the Canary bar before ten minutes were up as the game settled into a nicely competitive pace.
Cureton had a good chance to double Norwich's advantage in the 23rd minute when he was sprung clear by a fine Safri pass. The contact was good enough as he looked to help the bouncing ball over and beyond the Zwolle keeper; alas, the weight let the City striker down as it looped easily into the keeper's waiting arms.
The first blip came in the shape of a yellow card for Lappin after clattering into the Zwolle No9, Anco Jansen. Nine times out of ten, such pre-season bookings tend to get lost between Dutch FA and English FA. That, at least, will be Lappin's hope.
The second blip was rather bigger. Derk Boerrigter had already flashed a free, 12-yard header wide of Gilks' left upright before having another pop from distance moments later. He was just warming up, however.
Seconds before the break and Boerrigter again found himself free through that inside left channel. This time he looked up and rolled the ball across the penalty area where an unmarked Jansen had both the time and space to roll the ball home. City had conceded their first goal in the better part of seven hours of pre-season football.
Smith was the first to catch the eye after the interval with a neat take and left-foot drive that skipped little more than a couple of yards wide from some 25 yards distant.
The simple fact that the Canaries re-entered the evening fray unchanged suggested that Grant was starting to give greater game-time to his likely first team squad players. You would suspect that Messrs Otsemobor, Brellier, Marshall, Shackell and Huckerby would still be there or thereabouts come Deepdale.
Cureton almost restored Norwich's advantage in the 54th minute with a thumping volley after an excellent run and cross from Lappin that ended with a weak defensive header and a big, palm-away save. Moments later and Strihavka would neatly chest the ball down for Smith to strike goalward – straight at the keeper in this case.
Norwich had caused to regret such generosity in the 69th minute when Zwolle midfielder Niklas Moisander smashed in their second. It was a thumping finish; but then he had both the time and the space to engineer it.
Still some work to be done, in short.
Norwich City (4-3-1-2): Gilks; Hughes, Drury, Dublin (Otsemobor, 81 mins), Doherty; Lappin (Fotheringham, 64 mins), Safri, Smith (Eagle, 85 mins); Chadwick (Croft, 56 mins); Cureton (Spillane, 74 mins), Strihavka (Martin, 66 mins). Subs (not used): Marshall.
myfootballwriter's pre-season tour is sponsored by aggbag.co.uk
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