Monday, 22 April 2013

Norwich City 0 Nottingham Forest 1

Aggregate: 1-1, after extra time, Norwich win 5-4 on penalties

Having watched Norwich’s fledglings three times in the space of a fortnight, I’m genuinely starting to feel an affinity to them. I already knew about their attacking vibrancy and their goalscoring ability, but now I’ve seen their resilience too, which may prove far more important. 

To hold on in this semi-final, second leg for a whole hour with 10 men was the ultimate demonstration of this, men masquerading as boys, pros ahead of their years. You simply wouldn’t have known Norwich were the ones with a numerical disadvantage as Forest tried and failed for an hour to break through the stubborn yellow ranks. 

And then, just to make it worse for the Nottingham club, they stuck away five immaculate penalties and knocked them out when William Britt, their chest-thumping, badge-tugging goalkeeper, guessed correctly and dived low to his left to deny Forest’s skipper Jack Blake.

Of all my Youth Cup trips so far, I think I like Norwich the best, even though I had very little time to have a proper look around. Still, it looked nice in the couple of minutes’ walk between the train station and the hotel, with the first proper sunshine of Spring bringing the locals out along the very pleasant-looking riverside. 

But Norwich doesn’t have anything to answer for - it is, after all, the home of Alan Partridge, the star of the greatest comedy of all time, which I can quote off by heart thanks to endless repetition. Strangely, this skill seems to have come in handy banter-wise on every sports desk I’ve ever sat on...

As they sought to shield their single-goal advantage from the City Ground, there was plenty of confidence amongst the near-10,000 crowd who filled three sides of Carrow Road. It’s a lovely venue by the way, enclosed, atmospheric and intimate. I’ll certainly have to come back for a league game when it’s full.

There’s evidently a lot of passion for this club and plenty of support to draw on given their catchment area is an entire county and not a tiny one either. There aren’t any clubs of their standing for miles around, so everyone supports Norwich. Cashback. 

But the overwhelming majority of those present were stunned into silence after just 10 minutes. Bringing parity again to the aggregate scores, it was a strike that Partridge, in his football commentator days, might have described with an expletive and then “DID YOU SEE THAT???”

Jordan Palmer-Samuels had been benched in the first leg and evidently felt he had something to prove to coach Gary Brazil. Restored to the starting XI, he wasted no time and fired a crisp angled shot through a veritable forest of legs following a Blake corner. 

From then on, Forest formed two sturdy barriers of red and white and kept all Norwich’s creativity at bay. The Murphy twins, as they had done at Everton and in the first leg, tried to initiate everything by running gung-ho at defenders. 

This time they were, frankly, a little too greedy. I counted at least two occasions when one of the brothers opted to shoot into a defender or into the stands when a nearby teammate had a clear line of sight to goal. There were a few arms waved and voices raised from players left redundant in such good positions.

Nonetheless, at this point, you still fancied Norwich to break through and find the decisive goal at some point. But the pendulum swung when Cameron Norman came into confrontation with Morgan Ferrier for the second time in eight minutes or so. Both, according to Stuart Attwell, were worthy of cautions and Norman had to walk. 

For an hour and more, Norwich went into resistance mode and it happened they were very good at it. Forest seemed to tire, particularly as extra time dragged on goalless, and Norwich had a couple of chances to get that decisive goal. 

In the end, we ticked through to the penalty shoot-out and these two sets of exhausted young players, having battled each other for 210 minutes without being separated, had to rouse themselves once more. Norwich did just that, smashing in five textbook penalties that made you hope and pray the takers were all English. Forest could only manage four and when Britt got down to deny Blake, a great roar went up into the Norfolk night. 

What a fine achievement for Norwich, into their first FA Youth Cup final or three decades. Kiss my face.

Next Match: Yet more FA Youth Cup action, this time a little closer to home, as Chelsea play Liverpool in their second leg at Stamford Bridge