Sickly home side are well beaten by on-song Canaries
BARNSLEY got just what they deserved from this game – nothing.
Expectations were high after the midweek thriller at Elland Road, but by half-time Oakwell was flat as Norwich were cruising to a well-deserved victory.
Hugely talented Welsh international midfielder Andrew Crofts bagged both Norwich’s goals inside a devastating eight-minute spell late in the first half, but even by that point the visitors were comfortably in charge.
The Reds’ cause certainly wasn’t helped by injuries as unfortunate pair Bobby Hassell and Jason Shackell were both forced off before the interval, but the hosts were always second best on a disappointing afternoon.
Barnsley boss Mark Robins said: “I’ll have to take this one on the chin.
“We’ll learn from it. We simply didn’t perform and in the end we’ve made it far too easy for Norwich.
“We didn’t produce nearly enough up front, and they seemed to cope with the conditions much better than us.
“There’s no excuses. We just didn’t have enough flow and momentum. I’m trying to be positive, but it’s difficult after a performance like that.”
Robins was forced into a couple of changes to his starting line-up following the rip-roaring 3-3 draw at Leeds in midweek.
Both Nathan Doyle [calf] and Jacob Mellis [hamstring] failed pre-match fitness tests so in stepped Goran Lovre and Jacob Butterfield to replace them.
Otherwise the formation was pretty much as you were with Garry O’Connor set to play on his own up front.
There was a pleasant surprise for most Reds fans on the bench with new signing Marlon Harewood included. The experienced hit-man was only snapped on Saturday morning on an emergency loan deal until May 8 from Premier League Blackpool.
It started encouragingly enough with O’Connor driving a shot narrowly wide and then John Ruddy producing a brilliant point-blank save to keep out Lovre’s header, but Norwich soon gained a foothold into the game and Grant Holt almost broke the deadlock as he fired into the side-netting after rounding Luke Steele.
The first of Crofts’ two quality strikes came in the 34th minute, and a simply-worked effort it was.
Marc Tierney floated in a tempting cross from the left and there was Crofts who charged in to power home a header which flew into the top corner.
Butterfield saw a shot saved by Ruddy, but three minutes before the break Crofts produced a moment of magic to double his tally and send the Canaries clear.
Picking up a pass from Wes Hoolahan and with his back to goal, Crofts swivelled sweetly before volleying past Steele’s despairing dive to leave the hosts stunned.
Kieran Trippier smashed a shot into the side-netting, but by half-time it was already looking like game over.
Hassell and Shackell had both gone off by this time, and although Harewood came on to make an earlier-than-expected Reds bow he looked a little rusty.
After the break the chances for both sides appeared to dry up – the best for Barnsley saw Harewood rise for a header that Ruddy comfortably saved.
At the other end David Fox shot wide and defender Zak Whitbread saw a powerful header well saved by Steele, while Crofts came close to wrapping up a classy hat-trick when he let fly from 25 yards, only to see the ball flash narrowly past the post.
Canaries boss Paul Lambert was delighted to have passed a potentially very tricky test in South Yorkshire.
He said: “We knew it would be tough here.
“Our whole game was excellent. From start to finish we were the better side.
“We got the goals in the first half and that gave us the breathing space, but we’re a team and that showed.
“Players are continually stepping up to the plate, and I’ve always got great belief in us to score goals.”
This result is symptomatic of our season really.
We put in a good performance in the week and then this feels like a kick in the teeth.
It was a bad day at the office, undoubtedly, but it’s up to us to move past it.