Norwich tighten play-off grip with late win at Preston


Freddie Woodman produced a goalkeeping masterclass but Gabriel Sara’s late winner saw Norwich beat Preston 1-0 at Deepdale to move closer towards securing a coveted play-off place.

The former Newcastle shot-stopper pulled off a string of fine saves but Brazilian midfielder Sara’s 86th-minute strike dented the Lilywhites’ play-off hopes and left the Canaries six points clear of seventh-placed Hull.

Woodman made four excellent saves in the first half alone while the Lilywhites also hit the crossbar but it was Sara’s later intervention which proved crucial.

It was the playmaker’s fifth goal in seven games, with the Canaries having left themselves well-placed to be in the play-off mix with just three games left.

Gabriel Sara is mobbed after scoring a late winner for Norwich at Preston
Image:
Gabriel Sara is mobbed after scoring a late winner for Norwich at Preston

Preston dropped to 10th and are now eight points off sixth place, although they have four games left.

Defender Liam Lindsay went close for the home side in the 13th minute but his header flew narrowly over.

Midfielder Mads Frokjaer forced a fine save from Canaries keeper Angus Gunn not long after as the home side forced the early pace in their quest to further their play-off hopes.

At the other end, Sara picked out Borja Sainz with a fine pass but the Spaniard rifled his powerful volley wide of the target.

Centre-back Jordan Storey was then thwarted from close range by a superb save from Gunn.

But another missed chance nearly cost the home side but for Woodman’s brilliant intervention.

The on-song keeper produced an excellent block to deny Sainz the opener as the visitors found their way back into the contest.

Two minutes later Woodman saved well from Ashley Barnes as the home side found themselves on the back foot.

Sara went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock but again Woodman did well to collect a fizzing 25-yard volley.

Woodman saved again from Sara in first-half stoppage time as the home side were able to get some much-needed respite going into the break.

But that was just before Jack Whatmough thought he had put them ahead on the stroke of half-time, his thundering header having beaten Gunn and crashed into the woodwork.

Sara smashed over the bar after just two minutes of the second half while Sainz’s deflected effort fell fortuitously into the path of Josh Sargent but he lashed across the face of goal.

Kenny McLean fired a powerful shot over the bar as the visitors pushed for a winner and the pressure told with just four minutes left when Sara pounced to win it for the visitors.

Woodman got a hand to the shot but not enough to prevent it going into the far corner.

Midfielder Alan Browne had a shot cleared after a goalmouth scramble as Preston desperately tried to get back on level terms but Sara’s winner was a real sucker-punch to their play-off ambitions.

The managers

Preston’s Ryan Lowe:

“It’s mixed emotions, really. Disappointed with the result, pleased and proud of the boys for everything they have given all season.

“We have fallen a little bit short. It hasn’t been for the lack of trying, effort, desire or commitment – everything I like was definitely there.

“It is that final bit, in both boxes, isn’t it? But, as I say, I am always proud of the boys.

“I thought we were the better team really, if I am being honest – especially first half, we had some good moments.

“In the second half they had the ball a bit more; we were ready to pounce and go.”

Norwich’s David Wagner:

“We deserved the win, performance-wise we looked very mature, very calm and very composed.

“Unfortunately we had to wait quite a long time [to win it] but I have the feeling we deserved the goal.

“It was important to keep cool heads and to keep the crowd on a low. How the players executed the plan was just great.

“Unfortunately we didn’t use our opportunities [in the game], even though there were not a lot of them.

“But I thought we were always in control, even though some of our final passes and final touches could have been a bit better.

“We defended super, super well. We gave them more or less nothing apart from set-pieces.

“We knew they would be a threat on set-pieces but the players were competitive and it was a top performance.

“I’m over the moon about the result and the clean sheet as well. In possession we were composed even though we didn’t execute clearcut chances but we always looked in control.”



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