Derby 0-1 Norwich: Canaries on the verge of promotion as Kieran Dowell’s superb free kick extends visitors’ unbeaten run to 13 league games and keeps Wayne Rooney’s side looking over their shoulder
- Kieran Dowell’s excellent free kick was enough to see Norwich over the line
- Derby had three players booked inside 20 minutes and were dominated early on
- Tim Krul had to be at his best in the second half as the Rams pushed for a goal
- However, the visitors held on to move within just two points of promotion
- The Rams, meanwhile, are looking over their shoulder at the bottom three
The Championship promotion battle is a long and trying course but, on Grand National day, Norwich showed exactly why they will easily win the race by a significant number of lengths.
Kieran Dowell’s first-half free-kick was all that separated them and Derby but it was a typical performance for the Daniel Farke-trained Canaries.
They galloped into an early and commanding lead at the front this season, showed the staying pedigree to shirk every challenge along the way and powered down the home straight to all but secure promotion.
Kieran Dowell’s excellent free kick helped Norwich to their unbeaten league run to 13 games
Daniel Farke’s men are now just two points away from a swift return to the Premier League
With the chasers also getting wins this weekend, official confirmation of an instant Premier League return will have to wait but it is a mere formality.
The promotion party has long been a matter of when not if and, with pubs reopening this week, the local jaunts in Norwich can put the champagne on ice.
Speaking of champagne, that’s the word Farke uses to describe his side’s style: champagne football. ‘I’m a happy man tonight, it was not magic but it was a hard-fought win,’ said Farke.
His team showed Derby exactly why they are in such command in the table here, with their slick pass-and-move, fluid football in the first-half and a stubborn defensive display in the second.
Wayne Rooney’s Derby were overwhelmed early on as three players received yellow cards
Dowell seems to have found a home in Norwich having drifted somewhat in the last few years
Manchester United loanee Teden Mengi forced a brilliant save from Tim Krul in the second half
Derby (4-4-2): Marshall; MacDonald (Ebosele 84), Wisdom, Mengi, Forsyth; Roberts, Bird, Shinnie, Jozwiak (Sibley 69); Kazim-Richards, Lawrence (Watson 84).
Subs not used: Roos, Buchanan, Cresswell, Knight, Shonibare, Baningime.
Yellow: Shinnie, Bird, Forsyth, Roberts.
Manager: Wayne Rooney
Norwich (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Omobamidele, Hanley, Giannoulis; Skipp, McLean; Buendia (Placheta 63), Dowell (Stiepermann 62), Cantwell (Tettey 89); Pukki (Hugill 85).
Subs not used: Nyland, Hernandez, Vrancic, Mumba, Sorensen.
Goals: Dowell 21
Manager: Daniel Farke
Referee: Michael Salisbury
The possession statistic is often meaningless and lacks context but it was telling here. After 15 minutes, Norwich – the away side – boasted a staggering 87 per cent of the ball.
Wayne Rooney’s side were, to put it simply, bullied into submission. Three Derby players were yellow carded inside the opening 20 minutes, all for late challenges possibly borne out of the frustration of chasing Norwich shadows.
And while tactical fouls can be an art form – in hindsight anyway – Derby conceded a number of free-kicks in dangerous areas. Kieran Dowell narrowly missed the target with a set-piece on 10 minutes. Derby were warned.
They didn’t learn, though, and Craig Forsyth gave away another silly foul after a hapless lunge on Todd Cantwell. Kieran Dowell lined it up again, the referee’s white foam still fresh from his last attempt, and did not let up this chance.
With a pitch-perfect, left-footed shot, Dowell found the top-left corner and left Scotland international goalkeeper David Marshall rooted to the spot.
It was a third goal in the last five games for Dowell, who has peaked for the home straight of the season after ankle surgery ruled him out of the bulk of the campaign.
The 23-year-old has been like a new signing for Farke – another option to play in the front four and, similar to Cantwell and Emi Buendia, he glides across the pitch and is a constant threat.
‘I am delighted with Kieran,’ added Farke. ‘He’s on the right path. It was a world-class free-kick.’
Farke deserves credit for Dowell’s redemption story. He looked a bit lost after four loan spells away from Everton but seems to have found a home in Norwich.
The quality has always been there – he shone in glimpses for Nottingham Forest and had a good scoring record at Wigan – but Farke seems to have made Dowell into a consistent danger man.
It helps when you play in a side as free-flowing as Norwich, it must be said. The Canaries continued to dominate but could only create half-chances and Derby were very much in the game.
Rooney and his army of coaching staff patrolled the touchline, barking out orders in search of more intensity off the ball and added incentive in possession.
Patrick Roberts was influential for Derby in the second half and almost got on the scoresheet
They definitely got a reaction, with the Rams probably the better team in the early phases of the second half. Colin Kazim-Richards and Teden Mengi both forced top saves from Tim Krul.
Patrick Roberts, formerly of Norwich, was particularly influential for Derby. A player similar to Dowell in that he has had a long list of indifferent loan spells and injury woes, Roberts looked extremely confident for Rooney’s men.
And the Manchester City loanee nearly equalised on 74 minutes when he slalomed through several Norwich defenders before Krul smothered the ball.
Krul is another reason Norwich are so far ahead in the table. While the Canaries often blow teams away with their attacking play, as they did against Huddersfield and threatened to do here, they are extremely solid at the back with the World Cup-level experience of Krul behind.
Derby are seven points above the drop zone – but their relegation rivals have games in hand
Derby continued to threaten, which is credit to Rooney and his army of coaches – at one time, seven bodies were counted in the technical area. They gave Norwich a few scares and, in the opposite dugout, Farke cut a nervous and frustrated figure.
As good as Krul had been, he nearly gifted a point to Derby in injury time when Kazim-Richards picked his pocket, squared it to Graeme Shinnie who, somehow, shot over.
That’s another of the essential ingredients of a promotion achiever ticked off, then: luck. Norwich needed a bit of good fortune to hang on to the win but it was another accomplished performance and win.
‘We performed very well especially in the second half,’ said Rooney. ‘We deserved a point from the game.’
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