Norwich City take hard-earned point from goalless draw with Wolves

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Josh Sargent (left) and Rayan Aït-Nouri - - REUTERS
Josh Sargent (left) and Rayan Aït-Nouri - - REUTERS

Dean Smith’s positive start as Norwich City’s new manager continued here and, even though they did not win again, he rated this display as even better than the victory over Southampton in his opening assignment.

A team that looked like Premier League goners a few weeks ago have suddenly found a competitive edge.

The warm reaction at the end from a lively Carrow Road crowd showed their recognition of the upturn.

This was a hard-working display, keeping Wolverhampton Wanderers away from their box for much of the game – with the only frustration being the lack of clinical edge. This should really have been a Norwich victory.

Wolves’ goalkeeper Jose Sa made important saves on an afternoon when the Midlands club, challenging in the European qualification places, were impressively restricted by the hosts.

The solidity shown for long periods rightly pleased Smith – who has bad recent memories of facing Wolves. In his previous job as Aston Villa manager, he had lost at home in the league to these opponents last month, 3-2, in a dramatic late collapse – but this was very different.

There was also some impressive work further up the field, notably from Milot Rashica, but Teemu Pukki was not at his sharpest in front of goal here and he was not the only one.

Still, context is needed. This is a club that, before this match, recorded back-to-back victories against Brentford - Daniel Farke’s last game in charge – then the Southampton one, so they are going in the right direction.

Ahead of a huge game away against Newcastle United next, it is a welcome spike in form.

“I thought the performance was better than against Southampton,” Smith said. “Our overall performance was really good. I feel that the confidence and belief is growing now.”

The mood was very different in the Wolves camp, as they were left looking blunt in attack. Romain Saiss, the defender, said after the game that the forwards need to be more selfish. Bruno Lage, the head coach, admitted he made similar comments in the dressing room afterwards.

Lage, generally a measured man, showed his frustration on the sidelines and also in the press conference with his gesticulating.

When the issue of Wolves’ sharpness away from home was raised with him, he replied: “It’s also the way the opponents play. When they close the game inside, we need to go from outside. In the final third, we should be more aggressive.”

Wolves named eight subs with Daniel Podence absent due to a positive Covid test – which did not help ease the headaches caused by a relatively small squad at present, which will now also be affected by suspension for classy Ruben Neves after a booking here.

Smith, meanwhile, started Josh Sargent ahead of Todd Cantwell.

Norwich set their tone from the early stages and quickly created the better openings, despite Wolves enjoying more of the possession, with Pukki and Sargent shooting off target.

Smith’s men were already doing hard graft to keep Wolves in their own half for long periods – with Billy Gilmour showing encouraging signs.

There were vital goalkeeping interventions at either end – with both saving with their legs – just before half-time. Tim Krul stopped a shot by Joao Moutinho after a sloppy back pass from Norwich captain Grant Hanley put the home side in trouble. Sa then kept out Max Aarons’s strike.

Norwich kept up their good work early in the second period, but the visitors caused a scare when Raul Jimenez misdirected his header.

Sa made another big save, this time from Pukki, at close range – and Lukas Rupp struck another clear chance into the goalkeeper’s arms.

Norwich’s faithful knew this was, overall, a job well done though.

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