Amalfitano strike seals vital win
MORGAN Amalfitano scored for the second game running to deliver a huge win in the Barclays Premier League survival race.
The Baggies loan star’s 16th-minute opener – his fourth goal of the season – proved decisive as the visitors recorded a vital first clean-sheet since New Year’s Day and ended the Canaries' six-match unbeaten home run.
Pepe Mel’s men showed plenty of attacking intent and – spurred on by a sell-out 2,500 following boosted by free coach travel provided by the club - were well worthy of their second win on the road in three games.
Albion enjoyed a little luck along the way after the Canaries struck the woodwork twice in the space of two second-half minutes through Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass - but it's the least they deserved.
Jonas Olsson earned an instant return from suspension to replace the benched Craig Dawson as Mel’s only change to his starting XI.
Canaries chief Chris Hughton made two changes with Joseph Yobo and Hooper coming in for Ryan Bennett and Ricky van Wolfswinkel respectively.
The Baggies started sloppily and an under-hit Gareth McAuley back-pass almost put Hooper in on goal, with Ben Foster just managing to kick clear from the edge of his box.
The visitors’ first threat came in the fifth minute when Graham Dorrans dipped his shoulder on the left and fired in a 25-yard shot that John Ruddy held comfortably at his near post.
Moments later, Stephane Sessegnon ran at the heart of the Canaries’ defence and found Amalfitano on the right-hand side of the penalty area.
The on-loan Marseille man controlled and struck a fierce shot into the side-netting, with Ruddy covering his near post with a dive.
Albion were at sixes and sevens in the 13th minute and Robert Snodgrass’ deflected pass fell to Johan Elmander, who should at least have hit the target, but blazed over from 16 yards.
The Baggies made the giant Swede pay three minutes later as a sweeping move led to the opener.
Sessegnon robbed Snodgrass in midfield and found Dorrans who linked up with James Morrison and Youssouf Mulumbu to tee up Amalfitano. The French international coolly took advantage of Martin Olsson's slip before using Sebastien Bassong as a shield and firing past Ruddy into the bottom left-hand corner from 18 yards - before setting off to high-five Mel!
Dorrans delivered a devilish free-kick into the box from the left touchline on 27 and both McAuley and Olsson came within a fraction of connecting in front of goal.
The buoyant Baggies almost grabbed a second on the break on the half-hour mark.
Matej Vydra was sprung from defence by Morrison and he played a clever one-two with Sessegnon on the left-hand side of the area before seeing Ruddy pull off a good save from his angled 12-yard drive.
But the visitors needed some last-ditch defending of their own to stay ahead on 32, with Olsson just doing enough to prevent Hooper getting on the end of Russell Martin’s low right-wing cross into the six-yard box.
Seven minutes from the break, Wes Hoolahan whipped in a near-post cross from the right that Hooper flicked on. Elmander got on the end of it and the ball looked to be sneaking inside the far post until Foster flung himself and managed to just turn it around the woodwork.
Albion were defending manfully and in the last action of the second half, Steven Reid slid in inside the six-yard box to block Snodgrass’ low cross. Liam Ridgewell followed up to prevent the corner – but Snodgrass retrieved the loose ball and sent in a curling 15-yard strike that Foster held to preserve the lead at the interval.
Four minutes into the second half, Dorrans’ sublime pass down the left set Vydra in on goal. The former Watford ace raced into the box but chose to try and pick out Sessegnon rather than shoot and allowed Tettey to clear for a corner.
Two minutes later, Elmander teed up Snodgrass in the box at the other end and McAuley did well to deflect the Scotland international’s shot over.
The visitors breathed a sigh of relief on 57 as Snodgrass’ free-kick was only half cleared and the ball fell to Hooper, who smashed it off the crossbar from a tight angle.
And the hosts struck the woodwork again two minutes later, with Foster doing well to tip Snodgrass' 25-yard free-kick onto the bar and out for a corner.
Hughton made a change in the 64th minute with Nathan Redmond coming on for Hoolahan.
The Baggies were cut open two minutes later as Snodgrass played a one-two with Hooper but curled wide of the left-hand post from 15 yards, when he should have tested Foster.
Luciano Becchio entered the fray for Norwich on 70, with Elmander making way.
That was quickly followed by Mel’s first change as he brought on Saido Berahino for Vydra.
Gera replaced the tiring Dorrans on 77 but the Hungarian's afternoon was ended prematurely by injury six minutes later, with youngster Liam O’Neil called on to slot into central midfield and Morrison moving out to the left.
The Baggies kept their nerve through four minutes of stoppage time and almost added a second in the closing stages, with Ruddy blocking Berahino’s close-range shot after the young striker got on the end of Morrison’s pass.
NORWICH (4-4-2): Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong (c), M Olsson (Gutierrez 80); Snodgrass, Howson, Tettey, Hoolahan (Redmond 64); Elmander (Becchio 70), Hooper. Subs not used: Bunn (gk), Whittaker, Johnson, van Wolfswinkel.
ALBION (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, J Olsson (c), Ridgewell; Amalfitano, Morrison, Mulumbu, Dorrans (Gera 77 (O’Neil 83)); Sessegnon; Vydra (Berahino 70). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Thievy, Dawson, Anichebe.
GOAL: ALBION – Amalfitano (16).
BOOKING: NORWICH – Tettey (foul 44).
REFEREE: M Clattenburg (Durham).
ALBION STARMAN: Steven Reid.