Match Preview: Norwich City vs Cambridge United

Photo: Jake Hardiman

This Sunday will see Norwich City welcome Cambridge United to Norfolk on the fourth matchday of the FA Women’s National League Division One South East’s 2023/24 season. Carrow Road will play host to the sides’ second meeting in just two weeks.

Last time they met

The Canaries’ last match against Cambridge was a memorable one, not least for the fact that it only took place on the last weekend of August! Fresh off the back of a dramatic smash and grab 2-1 victory away at recently-promoted AFC Sudbury on the opening day of the season, Norwich travelled to St Neots to face the U’s in the Determining Round of the FA Women’s National League Cup.

The match was Cambridge’s first competitive fixture of the season, following the postponement of their opening day derby against Cambridge City. This came about due to England’s progression to the final of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

While U’s manager Darren Marjoram was keen not to blame this lack of freshness for what followed, there was certainly a clear gulf in class between the two sides, which may have been added to by Norwich’s increased match fitness. The Canaries looked comfortable throughout and led 2-0 at the break thanks to a brace from new signing Shannon Shaw.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

The visitors, well backed by a healthy following of fans who had made the relatively short journey across the Cambridgeshire border, picked up where they left off in the second half. Two goals from last season’s top scorer Natasha Snelling (who was harshly denied a hat-trick by the offside flag) and one from returning midfielder Jodie Drake saw Norwich ultimately run out 5-0 winners.

New Canaries manager Martin Herdman took the opportunity to use the cup match as a chance to try a new shape, making several changes and switching from the side’s tried and tested 4-3-3 to, as BBC Radio Norfolk’s Jack Maclean described it, “a high pressing 3-1-3-1-2 .” It will be interesting to see if this is repeated for Cambridge’s visit to Norwich.

The sides met three times last season

The Canaries also had the better of the U’s last season, winning all three of the competitive meetings between the two sides in the 2022/23 campaign. After a 4-1 away win on the opening day of the season, Norwich repeated the scoreline at home in the FA Cup. Meanwhile, their home league fixture against Cambridge ended in a 2-1 victory.

Sunday’s match is the third in quick succession for both teams

The upcoming fixture marks the end of a busy period for both sides, and will be their third fixture in eight days. Last Sunday, Norwich drew 2-2 at home to London Seaward at The Nest. Despite another two goals from the impressive Natasha Snelling, the Canaries were unable to hold onto their lead, and the match finished even.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

Meanwhile, Cambridge bounced back from their cup defeat against Norwich in some style, with a 4-0 home victory against Haywards Heath. This was followed up with a 2-2 draw away at AFC Sudbury on Tuesday night, with the U’s recovering from two goals down to salvage a point.

As for Norwich, their midweek fixture took them away to Cambridge City, where the Canaries raced into a three-goal first half lead thanks to an own goal and yet another Natasha Snelling brace. A second half penalty (after Cambridge City missed one of their own) from Megan Todd put the icing on the cake for an impressive 4-0 victory.

Back at Carrow Road

Rather than taking place as usual at The Nest, Norwich City have chosen this fixture to be held at Carrow Road. Following a hugely successful league match at the stadium in April, when the Canaries ran out 5-3 winners against a tenacious Ashford Town side in a thrilling game watched by over 7,500 spectators, Norwich will be hoping for a similar success story this Sunday.


Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

This isn’t the first time that a meeting between the two sides has been played out at one of the corresponding EFL stadiums. Indeed, the aforementioned opening day fixture in the 2022/23 campaign that Norwich won 4-1 also occurred in such a setting.

With the nation still riding a wave of positivity following England’s 2022 Euros win, 648 spectators were in attendance for the game at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium.

Between the sticks

While the fact that newly-appointed Norwich manager Martin Herdman has had a near-perfect first few weeks in the job, this is also something of a curse in terms of team selection. With strong performances throughout the squad in recent weeks, there are certainly some big decisions on his plate.

These start at the back and extend more or less throughout the entire lineup. Experienced shot-stopper Sarah Quantrill put in a good showing in the opening day victory away at AFC Sudbury, but young keeper Bryony Williams’ clean sheet in the Cambridge United cup match also gives her a good chance of selection.

That being said, Quantrill regained her starting spot against London Seaward and retained it against Cambridge City. The veteran gloveswoman will have been delighted to have kept a clean sheet in the latter fixture.

Defensive decisions

The Norwich defence is generally more settled, with hardworking centre back Ceri Flye typically flanked by full backs Anna Larkins and Alice Parker. However, the big question is whether Herdman will set up with this back three like at Cambridge, or slot newly-signed centre back Hope Strauss alongside them into a more conventional back four.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

In the Canaries’ recent home match against London Seaward, Herdman persisted with a back three, with Larkins, Flye, and Strauss being the starters and Parker on the bench. Meanwhile, the Cambridge City fixture saw Norwich revert to a back four, with Larkins, Flye, and Parker joined by Mary Croft.

Strauss was one of seven new signings to join the Canaries in the summer, and came from Loughborough alongside fellow ex-Lightning defender Felicity Limage. In terms of players who have been at Norwich for a longer period, Herdman has several other defensive options at his disposal, including Jess Harper and Summer Ward.

A myriad of midfield options

The new Canaries boss also has several options at his disposal in the middle of the park. A midfield triangle of Katie Knights and Eloise Morran anchoring Freya Symonds, whose last-minute free kick gave Norwich all three points away at Sudbury on the opening day, would likely be the most settled combination.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

However, the likes of Jodie Drake, Ellie Smith, and Rebecca Russell also excel centrally, and represent strong options when fit, with the first two having featured against London Seaward (Drake from the start and Smith from the bench).

Smith went on to start against Cambridge City, with Millie Daviss and Lauren Hailes offering further midfield options from the bench.

Herdman is equally spoiled in terms of his choice of wide players. Megan Todd and Kathryn Stanley were among Norwich’s most consistent performers last season, and started on the wing against AFC Sudbury, with the latter opening the scoring.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

However, strong performances in the recent cup fixture against Cambridge by new signings Lauren Tomlinson (ex-Cambridge City) and Rachel Lawrence (ex-Peterborough United) have also given the Canaries boss plenty to think about, with both having enjoyed starting roles in some of the recent matches.

Going forward

Up front, Norwich number 10 Natasha Snelling is generally one of the first names on the team sheet, and her two goals against Cambridge United two weeks ago will have done her selection prospects no harm. However, ex-Cambridge City striker Shannon Shaw’s first-half brace in the same game also leaves her strongly in contention.

This could be where Herdman’s willingness to adapt his side’s formation might come into play. After all, a front two of Snelling and Shaw would surely leave any side in the division quaking in their boots, and this is how the side set up against London Seaward.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

Norwich also have depth up front in the form of young forward Olivia Cook, whose pinpoint cross set up Shaw’s second away at Cambridge United. That being said, she didn’t feature against either London Seaward or Cambridge City.

Ultimately, however Herdman sets up his side, Sunday will represent another fantastic afternoon for women’s football in Norfolk, with Carrow Road being a worthy setting for the occasion. Despite the home advantage and big win on the road in the cup, the Canaries mustn’t take Cambridge United lightly, as they come to Norfolk with a point to prove. Bring it on!

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