Boss David Wagner warned Norwich cannot let up in their bid for a Championship play-off place despite moving six points clear with a late 1-0 win at Preston.

Gabriel Sara struck in the 86th minute to bag a crucial victory for the Canaries against their promotion rivals on a day where fellow contenders Coventry and Middlesbrough also dropped points.

Seventh-placed Hull have a game in hand on Norwich but Wagner’s side are in pole position to secure that final spot after an excellent performance at Deepdale.

A goalkeeper masterclass from Freddie Woodman prevented Norwich from striking earlier – he made four excellent first-half saves – but Sara’s fifth goal in seven matches broke the deadlock.

“We’re a step closer [securing a play-off place] but it isn’t done,” Wagner said.

“We have some further work to do but seven points from our last three games – and three top performances – is fantastic.

“We’re all a bit exhausted but we have a couple of days off now and we can’t wait to get back to Carrow Road against Bristol City.”

In a game packed with chances, Woodman kept Preston in it. He first saved from Borja Sainz before denying Ashley Barnes from close range.

Sara went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock but again Woodman did well to collect a fizzing 25-yard volley while he then stopped Sara in first-half stoppage time.

Preston had plenty of chances of their own, with Norwich stopper Angus Gunn thwarting Jordan Storey from close range.

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

“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.”

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

“It’s mixed emotions, really,” said manager Ryan Lowe.

“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.”

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.

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.

Norwich manager David Wagner felt his team were hitting consistent form at the perfect time as they continued their push for a Championship play-off spot with a comfortable 3-0 win away at relegation-threatened Stoke.

Josh Sargent, Gabriel Sara and Ashley Barnes all got their names on the scoresheet as the Canaries made it six wins from their last nine matches.

Victory keeps the Canaries in sixth place – the fourth and final play-off spot – but they are now three points clear of seventh-placed Hull having played a game more.

“One thing is the numbers (the scoreline), but the other thing is the performance,” Wagner said. “I think it was another very, very good performance away from home.

“The guys looked super sharp, super solid defensively, super aggressive and, with the ball, they played some wonderful football, scored great goals and had chances for more.

“They have a lot of confidence at the moment. They’re brave on the ball as well – everybody knows what he has to do and likes to do.

“Obviously, this is why I’m absolutely delighted with what I’ve seen and the shift which the players put in.”

The win comes on the back of a 5-0 home victory over Rotherham last weekend and also ends a run of four league away games without picking up all three points.

“To be fair, I think that we’re able to score (plenty of) goals. We’ve known this more or less from the beginning of the season,” Wagner added.

“But to consistently do it and to do it away from home as well, is always important at this stage of the season.

“Every win – home or away – is super, super important and the players are in good form.

“They do enjoy playing football together. They do enjoy fighting together for every inch, and trying to keep the ball out of the net. And this is exactly what they do now consistently, home or away.

“Obviously, away, there haven’t been so many wins like at home, but performance wise, I think consistently now in recent weeks or months I can say they’ve done it on a very consistent and high level.”

Defeat for Stoke, who had come into the match in confident mood on the back of two wins from their last three games, leaves them just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Manager Steven Schumacher was bitterly disappointed with his team’s display.

“At the end of the day, we lost the game because they were better than us and we weren’t good enough in too many areas of the game,” he said.

“We didn’t do what we have been doing well in the last couple of games.

“I felt we were a little bit too passive – it took us 78 minutes to make a tackle, which is not going to get you any results against a team as good as Norwich.

“We weren’t close enough, we weren’t aggressive enough and when we did have the ball, we gave it back to them a bit too cheaply as well.”

Schumacher was particularly concerned about his side’s response to going behind.

“Once we’ve conceded the first goal, we just don’t see any sort of reaction from the lads,” he added. “It’s like we freeze and everybody goes in their shell – that can’t happen.

“Even if you go a goal down you’ve got to respond and try and do something about it.”

Norwich continued their Championship play-off push with a comfortable 3-0 victory away at relegation-threatened Stoke.

Josh Sargent, Gabriel Sara and Ashley Barnes all got their names on the scoresheet as David Wagner’s side made it six wins from their last nine matches.

Victory keeps the Canaries in sixth place – the fourth and final play-off spot – but they are now three points clear of seventh-placed Hull, having played a game more.

Defeat for Stoke, meanwhile, leaves them two just points clear of the drop zone and still firmly among the candidates for relegation.

Norwich – unchanged from the team that started the 5-0 win over Rotherham last time out – came flying out of the traps, with Borja Sainz’s half-volley forcing a good save out of Daniel Iversen in the opening minute.

Stoke responded well though and nearly took the lead when right-wingback Ki-Jana Hoever went on a long mazy run before unleashing a close-range shot that was diverted against the post by goalkeeper Angus Gunn.

The missed opportunity came back to bite the hosts after 24 minutes as Norwich captain Kenny McLean threaded the ball through to Sainz, who held it up before feeding Sargent to score into an empty net for his 13th goal of the season.

Sargent turned provider for Sainz moments later as the visitors’ confidence grew, hanging up a cross for a volley that was well stopped by Iversen.

And the Canaries doubled their advantage just before the half-hour mark, with Sainz finding Sara, who guided the ball into the corner of the net from outside the box.

Potters skipper Josh Laurent had a great chance to halve the deficit five minutes later, but he could only head the ball over the crossbar from Lewis Baker’s corner.

Stoke continued to battle for a way back into the contest as the second half got underway, with Tyrese Campbell heading over after meeting Baker’s delivery.

But the game was effectively put to bed on the hour mark as Barnes slotted home a rebound after McLean’s effort in the box was deflected into his path.

Iversen denied Sara from distance in the 72nd minute and Sargent from up close shortly after to prevent Norwich adding further gloss to the scoreline.

Stoke came close to bagging a late consolation on a couple of occasions but it was an extremely disappointing day for Steven Schumacher’s team, who had come into the match in confident mood on the back of two wins from their last three games.

Some of the home fans were leaving with 10 minutes left to play and it is bound to be a nervy end to the campaign for them, with eight matches remaining.

Norwich head coach David Wagner praised the attitude of his side after they hammered bottom club Rotherham 5-0 to move back into the Championship play-off zone.

The Canaries were professionalism personified as they ruthlessly dismantled a side who arrived at Carrow Road with eight successive defeats behind them.

“It was a top-class performance, a fantastic afternoon,” said Wagner. “In every game you play you need the players to show passion, hunger and desire and we saw all those things from them today.

“It was a game people were expecting us to win but you have to prepare properly whoever you are playing. We did that and then, from the very first minute, the players were focused, they were really on it.

“We scored some really good goals and defended well to keep a clean sheet. The players deserve all the credit they get after that.”

He added: “I would rather be in the top six than not with nine games to go, but at the moment it is not important.

“From now on I want us to be super ambitious, but very humble, talk less and work more. Because the only thing that matters is where we are after 46 games.”

Norwich wrapped up the points in the first half, scoring four goals as they ruthlessly emphasised the gulf in class between the two sides.

They went ahead after 13 minutes as some poor defending allowed Jack Stacey to get in a cross from the right for an unmarked Gabriel Sara to head home.

Jacob Sorensen nodded in a Sara corner to make it 2-0 after 21 minutes and it was three just past the half-hour mark as Borja Sainz collected a loose ball in midfield and ran unchallenged before lashing the ball home from just outside the box.

Josh Sargent made it 12 for the season on the cusp of half-time, sweeping home Stacey’s low cross at the back post, and Sara completed the rout two minutes after the break, brilliantly volleying into the top corner after Sargent’s effort had been saved by Viktor Johansson.

Norwich took their foot off the gas after that but Rotherham still failed to muster an effort worthy of the name as they slumped to a ninth straight defeat, and their second 5-0 reverse in the space of five days.

“It was a poor performance, a poor result and a poor reaction to the defeat in midweek,” admitted Millers manager Leam Richardson, whose side are 20 points adrift of safety.

“There is a way we want to finish the season, and it is certainly not like this. There were two ‘worldie’ goals in there I suppose, but there was also some bad defending – the first one was just basic stuff which we didn’t get right.

“I picked the side and I take full responsibility. It has been a horrible week for the staff and the players but the people I feel really sick for are the fans who have come all the way to Coventry and Norwich to support us.

“We just need to start picking up some points again. There is a very flat feeling at club at the moment but there are still nine games to go for us to do something about that.”

Norwich got their Championship play-off bid well and truly back on track after a midweek defeat as they hammered bottom side Rotherham 5-0 at Carrow Road.

The Canaries bounced back from a 3-1 reverse at Middlesbrough in the perfect fashion by recording their biggest win of the season, with four of the goals coming in a one-sided first half.

Gabriel Sara led the way with a brace to reach double figures for the campaign while Jacob Sorensen, Borja Sainz and the prolific Josh Sargent were also on target.

For Rotherham it was a ninth straight defeat, and their second 5-0 reverse in a row, and there is now every chance their seemingly inevitable relegation will be confirmed before the end of the month.

Norwich had the game won by half-time, with a mixture of slick attacking play and some abysmal defending from the visitors contributing to the scoreline.

The stage was set as early as the 13th minute when Jack Stacey crossed for an unmarked Sara to head home the simplest of openers.

Rotherham defender Cameron Humphreys contributed to the goal with a weak attempt to stop the ball coming in, and the Millers were all at sea again after 21 minutes as the Norwich made it two.

This time a Sara corner from the right was guided home by the Sorensen for his first goal of an injury-hit campaign, with no visiting defenders near him.

Norwich’s third just past the half-hour mark came from a superb run and strike from Sainz, who won an appeal against a midweek red card on Friday – but again Rotherham failed to put in a tackle or block.

Top scorer Sargent twice went close to increasing the lead before getting his goal on the stroke of half-time, converting at the back post after being picked out by a fast-breaking Stacey.

The outclassed visitors failed to muster an effort of any kind in an embarrassingly one-sided opening period and they found themselves further behind two minutes after the break.

Keeper Viktor Johansson did well to keep out a powerful drive from Sargent but the ball spun out towards Sara who conjured up a brilliant acrobatic volley into the top corner to make it 5-0.

David Wagner’s side tended to take their foot off the pedal slightly after that, with Millers’ substitute Jordan Hugill finally registering his side’s first effort of note with a header which sailed well over.

The hosts had several opportunities to stretch their lead in the closing stages but had to settle for a nap hand.

Norwich head coach David Wagner praised a ‘top quality’ performance from his side after watching them beat Cardiff 4-1 to give their Championship play-off bid a further boost.

The Canaries recovered from the shock of conceding first when totally on top to score four goals at Carrow Road for the second time in five days following Tuesday night’s 4-2 success over Watford.

Jamilu Collins put Cardiff in front but Josh Sargent (2), Gabriel Sara and substitute Christian Fassnacht replied to secure Norwich a fourth successive home win.

Wagner said: “The lads played very well, all the departments of our game were top quality.

“We started well and the only criticism I could make was we were not ruthless enough early on. But we stayed calm, kept playing our football and scored some wonderful goals.

“You can see from the way we are playing at the moment that there is a lot of confidence in the group.
All of the players are doing their jobs at a high level and full credit to them for that.

“I was also impressed with the way we defended. Cardiff are one of the best set-piece teams in the league and we didn’t concede a single corner, which was very pleasing.”

Wagner was critical of sections of the support on Tuesday, after a negative reaction to his substitutions, but was delighted with the backing today.

He added: “I thought the fans were top class and full credit to them.

“They backed their team throughout, even when we conceded, and in the end it was a great afternoon for the people in the stands – and the people on the pitch.”

Norwich were dominant throughout but fell behind against the run of play after 19 minutes when Collins squeezed the ball home at the back post after good work from Rubin Colwill.

But the hosts didn’t panic and were ahead at the break.

Sargent got them back on level terms 20 minutes later with a close-range finish after Sam McCallum’s effort had been parried by Ethan Horvath and Sara quickly made it 2-1 by curling a 20-yard free-kick into the far corner.

Norwich wrapped up the points after 54 minutes, Sargent reaching double figures in an injury-hit season as he acrobatically steered the ball home after his first shot had come back off the upright.

Fassnacht later made it back-to-back four-goal home wins when he finished emphatically after being set up by fellow substitute Sydney van Hooijdonk.

Manager Erol Bulut admitted Cardiff had been beaten by a better side on the day.

“They are a good team with a lot of good players and it was difficult for us, ” he said. “I thought we did well to stop them scoring early on and then we got a goal.

“But it was still tough, they kept coming at us and once they got their equaliser and then scored their second and third it was always going to be difficult to come back.

“It has been a difficult spell, the worst of my managerial career, but we have 40 points with 14 games left to play and there is plenty of play for.

“We need to get back to the sort of team we were at the start of the season. This team will come back again – I believe in them.”

Norwich head coach David Wagner was critical of a section of the club’s support after watching his side recover from losing a two-goal lead to beat Watford 4-2.

Late goals from Gabriel Sara and Christian Fassnacht saw the Canaries move into the play-off places on goals scored, after enduring an uncomfortable opening to the second half.

Wagner’s decision to substitute Onel Hernandez and Josh Sargent drew chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” from some fans – and the edgy atmosphere seemed to play a part in Watford battling their way back into the game.

“We are talking about a small group but I think they should stay at home if they are going to be like that, because it clearly affected the players on the pitch. It was just unacceptable in my view,” said Wagner.

“Both Onel and Josh were struggling with injuries and that is why I took them off – I think the players who came on deserved more respect, they shouldn’t have heard booing when they came on. And I think I deserve more respect too.

“We know the target in front of us, we know the chance we have got and we need all the supporters to be behind us. Hopefully the bigger group can be louder and we don’t hear what the small group are saying.

“I thought it was a big result tonight – in the first half I thought we were outstanding.

“And after it went to 2-2 we kept playing our football and scored two more goals. I am very proud off all the players.”

Norwich opened the scoring after 20 minutes when goal-line technology ruled that Ashley Barnes’ far-post  header had crossed the line before Ben Hamer clawed the ball away.

Eight minutes later the Watford keeper made another save that counted for nothing as he kept out Sargent’s penalty, awarded for a foul by Wesley Hoedt on Kenny McLean, only for the American striker to nod home the rebound.

Watford got themselves back in it just before the break when Mileta Rakovic tapped home Ken Sema’s cross from close range, and equalised in sensational fashion after 71 minutes as substitute Yaser Asprilla beat Angus Gunn with a screamer from 30 yards.

But it was Norwich who went on to take all three points. Six minutes later Barnes fed the overlapping Sara to make it 3-2 with an unerring low finish into the far corner and substitute Fassnacht quickly made the points safe with a close-range effort which took a big deflection off Ryan Porteous.

Watford boss Valerien Ismael felt his side had wasted a good opportunity to get back to winning ways.

“It is very frustrating – we are scoring goals at the moment  but we are conceding too many as well and that makes it very difficult,” he said.

“After finding ourselves 2-0 down we then got ourselves back in it. From that moment I thought the momentum changed and we had a great chance to equalise just before half-time through Matheus (Martins).

“In the second half I thought we got on top  and Yaser (Asprilla) equalises with an incredible shot.

“But from then on it was very disappointing – all the players on the pitch need to be 100 percent committed to helping their colleagues.

“You need to win your duels in football, that is one of the basics of the game, and we lost the control that we had.

“The players have had their say in the dressing room and all we can focus on now is going out and trying to win our next match.”

Norwich recovered from losing a two-goal lead to beat Watford 4-2 at Carrow Road and maintain their Championship play-off push.

The Canaries appeared to be in command  after scoring twice in eight first half minutes through Ashley Barnes and Josh Sargent, only for Hornets to hit back as Mileta Rajovic netted just before the break and Yaser Asprilla scored a long-range stunner to equalise midway through the second period.

But the home side kept their nerve and two quick goals from Gabriel Sara and Christian Fassnacht sealed a hard fought win that made it nine home games without defeat, while dealing another blow to Watford’s rapidly receding hopes of finishing in the top six.

Norwich made a bright start and deservedly took the lead after 20 minutes, with a little help from goal-line technology.

When Barnes got his head on Onel Hernandez’s cross to the back post it appeared as though Ben Hamer had made a spectacular one-handed save to keep it out.

But it was all to no avail, with referee Stuart Atwell signalling a goal after being informed that the ball had crossed the line before the keeper’s last-gasp intervention.

Hamer made another save which counted for nothing eight minutes later as the Canaries doubled their advantage.

This time he parried Sargent’s penalty, awarded for a foul on Kenny McLean by Wesley Hoedt, only for the ball to rebound kindly for the American to nod home his seventh goal of an injury-hit campaign.

Norwich looked in complete control at that stage but Watford got themselves back in it through Rajovic after 42 minutes.

Ismael Kone picked out Ken Sema’s run down the inside left channel and what appeared to be an attempt at a shot turned into a perfect cross for Rajovic to poke home from inside the six-yard box.

The Hornets might have got back on level terms a few minutes later after Barnes was caught in possession in a dangerous area but Matheus Martins delayed too long and his shot was blocked.

Watford wasted another good opportunity seven minutes into the second period when Sema dragged his shot wide from a good position after being set up by Martins’ cutback.

Despite being in front Norwich were beginning to look more than a little nervous, with the crowd getting edgy too, and the mood slumped still further as the visitors scored a quite brilliant equaliser after 71 minutes.

The home defence were guilty of failing to close down substitute Asprilla as he made ground towards their goal down the left and the Colombia international took full advantage, beating Angus Gunn from all of 30 yards, with his searing effort going in off the woodwork.

It was the second time this season that Watford had come from 2-0 down to level against Norwich – but this time it was the Canaries who scored the fifth goal of the game.

With 77 minutes on the clock Barnes did well to control the ball and switch it to the overlapping Sara, and the Brazilian burst into the box before beating Hamer with a low shot into the far corner.

Five minutes later Norwich gave themselves some breathing space by making it 4-2, with Jack Stacey’s cross being turned in from close range by substitute Fassnacht via a big deflection off Ryan Porteous.

Leeds climbed to within two points of the Sky Bet Championship’s automatic-promotion places with a 1-0 win against Norwich at Elland Road.

Patrick Bamford scored the game’s solitary goal with a thumping first-half header and that was enough to seal Leeds their fifth straight win in all competitions and keep the pressure on their promotion rivals.

Norwich were not without their chances – Gabriel Sara’s first-half effort was the best of them – but they slipped to their first defeat in six games and failed to climb into the play-off places.

In a fixture brought forward because both sides are in FA Cup action this weekend, there was little to excite the crowd in the opening quarter of an hour.

But Bamford changed that in the 16th minute after a concerted spell of home pressure as his fourth goal in five games put Leeds ahead.

Georginio Rutter and Daniel James combined on the edge of the box and the latter provided a pin-point assist to the far post where Bamford expertly headed back across a flat-footed Angus Gunn and into the far corner.

Norwich, Leeds boss Daniel Farke’s former club, did not stir until Josh Sargent’s shot was blocked in the 35th minute and captain Kenny McLean then blazed a golden chance over the crossbar.

But Leeds’ dominance was not reflected in chances and Norwich served another warning just before the break when Sara mis-hit Jack Stacey’s cross to the back post.

Jaidon Anthony replaced James at the break and helped set up Crysencio Summerville, who fired an early second-half chance off target before Norwich stepped it up.

The Canaries appeared to be gaining momentum, but Leeds pounced on a mis-placed pass from Sara and it took a last-ditch block from McLean to deny Anthony in front of goal.

Summerville’s cross, after racing on to Junior Firpo’s precision pass, deserved better than Bamford’s wayward effort and Rutter was denied by Gunn’s out-stretched boot as Leeds chased a killer second goal.

But it did not come and Norwich threatened an equaliser on the counter-attack when substitute Adam Idah was brilliantly thwarted by 17-year-old Archie Gray.

It was end-to-end action in the closing stages. Summerville’s shot curled just wide and Firpo’s low effort was saved by Gunn before the final whistle was met by huge roars of relief from the home fans as Leeds held on.

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