Match Report: Norwich City vs Cambridge United

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

Norwich City welcomed Cambridge United to Carrow Road for the fourth matchday of the FA Women’s National League Division One South East Season on Sunday.

Having faced off just two weeks ago in the League Cup, this match, played in blistering 30-degree conditions under sunny Norfolk skies, was the first league meeting between the sides in the 2023/24 campaign. Almost 5,000 fans were in attendance for a hard-fought draw.

Big decisions

In a league as competitive as any of the FAWNL’s six divisions, every game is a big one. However, with this particular fixture taking place at Norwich City’s Carrow Road stadium rather than the usual surroundings of The Nest, the Canaries’ players will have been particularly determined to be selected.

After trying various different systems in the last few weeks, with both three-player and four-player defensive setups featuring in recent matches, newly appointed Norwich manager Martin Herdman settled on a more standard 4-3-3 shape, with Natasha Snelling flanked up front by Rachel Lawrence and Megan Todd, with Ellie Smith in behind at the top of a midfield triangle.

Getting started

The match started slowly, with a quiet and closely matched first 5 or 10 minutes that were punctuated by an injury pause after Parker went down on 8 minutes, followed by Snelling shortly after the restart. Both players were fit to continue.

Cambridge, who looked a much-improved side compared to their recent 5-0 League Cup defeat at the hands of the Canaries, had their first chance on 13 minutes, when a deep free kick had to be hooked clear by Rachel Lawrence. However, the resulting cross was well claimed by Norwich keeper Sarah Quantrill.

The Cambridge pressure continued, and Ruth Fox was slipped in down the left wing on 15 minutes. Her advance was stopped by tackles from Canaries centre backs Mary Croft and Ceri Flye, but the U’s were able to recycle the resulting throw for a corner. The outswinging delivery looked dangerous, but was headed over.

Photo: Jake Hardiman

Cambridge finally made their pressure pay on 21 minutes. After Rachel Kosky’s long-range shot crashed off the bar, Quantrill got down to save Alysha Stojko-Down’s headed rebound for a corner. After a brief period of pinball in the box from the delivery, the ball was eventually bundled in by Isabella Simmons for the last action before a mid-half water break.

Changing it up

Going a goal down prompted Canaries boss Martin Herdman to switch his side’s formation to three at back, with Parker pushed forward to left wing-back. The switch also saw Rachel Lawrence move up front into a two-pronged attack with the ever-dangerous Natasha Snelling. However, the 10 minutes or so that followed the water break were fairly uneventful, with teams struggling to create clear chances in the searing heat.

The half ended in exciting fashion, with a string of Norwich chances. The first of these came in the form of a free kick on the edge of the box after good interchange play between Ellie Smith and Natasha Snelling. However, Alice Parker’s left-footed shot went just over the bar.

Rachel Lawrence was slipped in behind the U’s back line shortly after, and her curling shot just cleared the bar under characteristic pressure from the well-organised Cambridge defence. Norwich captain Anna Larkins was the next to come close, with her right-footed inswinging corner delivery almost sneaking in. However, it ultimately ended up hitting the near post and going out of play.

Photo: CambridgeUtdWFC

Moving into added time, the crowd was buoyed by a super jinking run down the right wing by Ellie Smith. Her cross was cleared to Megan Todd who found Alice Parker, but her resulting delivery was comfortably caught by Lauren Webb in the Cambridge goal. Minutes later Parker’s inch-perfect through ball found Snelling between two defenders, but her shot from the edge of the box hit the bar for the last action of the half.

After the restart

Norwich made two changes at half time, with Lauren Tomlinson coming on for Mary Croft and Shannon Shaw replacing Katie Knights. This resulted in a more attacking 3-1-4-2 setup, with Parker moving back into defence and Eloise Morran in the holding role. The midfield four of Lawrence, Todd, Smith, and Tomlinson showed Norwich’s attacking intent, with Shaw and Snelling up front.

Shaw was slipped in behind the Cambridge defence almost immediately after the restart, but her cross was too weak to reach Snelling. However, not long later, a long Tomlinson throw found Smith who was fouled in the box for a penalty. Megan Todd stepped up and coolly sent Webb the wrong way to level the scores at 1-1 just three minutes into the second half.

Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

Tomlinson continued to impress shortly afterwards, and won a free kick on the left wing after a clever flick took her away from Samantha Edgar, who cynically brought her down and was given a yellow card for her troubles. Despite the promising situation, Parker’s delivery was blocked by the wall and cleared to safety.

As the game hit the hour mark, Megan Todd made a driving run forward after tenacious midfield play from Ellie Smith. However, as was the case several times throughout the afternoon, she held onto the ball for a fraction too long when options were available earlier in the phase of play. When she did eventually get her pass off to Snelling, it was unfortunately overhit.

Soon afterward, Cambridge came forward with a rare second-half attack of their own. However, Sarah Quantrill did well to come off her line quickly and deny Isabella Simmons on the edge of the box in a one-on-one situation. Then, on 63 minutes, the ball fell kindly to Ruth Fox, but her 25-yard shot was easily held by Quantrill

The high temperatures meant that water breaks featured in the afternoon’s play. Shortly after one of these fell midway through the second half, Cambridge forced a corner on the left wing. The resulting outswinging delivery caused a brief scramble in the box, but the ball was ultimately held by Quantrill.

After a quiet 10 minutes or so, Norwich won a free kick 25-30 yards out on the right wing at around the 78-minute mark. Lawrence’s outswinging delivery was cleared to Morran who found Todd, but the Norwich number seven’s shot from edge was underhit and easily saved.


Photo: @NorwichCityWFC

A minute later, Shannon Shaw found herself one-on-one after a defensive mix-up on the edge of the box, but her shot was well saved by Webb for a corner that came to nothing. Moving into the final 10 minutes, Kathryn Stanley and Freya Symonds came on for Natasha Snelling and Ellie Smith, both of whom had been running hard despite the searing heat.

On 85 minutes, Megan Todd showed a burst of energy as she darted down the right wing, only to be cynically fouled by Brooke Cheal-Ferris who was subsequently booked. Anna Larkins’ right-footed delivery from the set piece was easily held by Webb, who briefly went down injured in the aftermath.

Level pegging

As the game moved into stoppage time, new Norwich recruit Hope Strauss replaced a tiring Eloise Morran for a spot of defensive assurance, but the game quickly petered out to finish 1-1.

All in all, a draw was just about a fair result, and one that Cambridge will be rightly pleased with. Having faced a thrashing at the hands of the Canaries just two weeks ago, the U’s set up well in a manner that reduced Norwich’s attacking offering to just a handful of good chances.


Photo: Jake Hardiman

The hosts will hope to get back to winning ways next time out, as they welcome Haywards Heath to the Nest on the 17th. If nothing else, Norwich can be pleased with another fantastic occasion where their women’s team got the platform they deserve, with many of the 4,849 fans in attendance staying behind to meet their heroes for selfies and autographs. Neither team won, but football certainly did.

Norwich City: Quantrill, Parker, Flye, Todd, Smith (Symonds), Snelling, (Stanley) Larkins, Knights (Shaw), Morran (Strauss), Lawrence, Croft (Tomlinson)

Cambridge United: Webb, Rouse, Kosky, Stojko-Down, Fox, Edgar, Jackson, Steele, Cheal-Ferris, Wood, Simmons (Day)

Player of the match: Ellie Smith, Norwich City

Attendance: 4,849

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