Robert Snodgrass’ fourth goal of the season two minutes into the second-half proved just enough to give the Canaries a huge, 1-0 win over Champions League chasing Tottenham at a rocking Carrow Road this afternoon.
It lifted City into 14th spot. More importantly it carried them four points clear of the relegation zone and onto 28 points alongside Aston Villa whose own, 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United earlier today will have rung the alarm bells that much louder in the Midlands.
It also tees up the meeting between the two clubs just perfectly. Given the bad blood that flows routinely from Villa Park to Carrow Road and back again, next Sunday’s encounter promises to be a total thriller. On the back of today’s uplifting performance, can one manager finally lay to rest the ghost of another?
In the meantime, the hard-pressed Chris Hughton can cling onto a more than decent performance that, for once, delivered the required finish as Snodgrass picked his spot and his moment inside a far upright.
It still needed a big performance from John Ruddy to keep the visitors out – his best, spreading save coming in the 81st minute to deny Nacer Chadli.
On the back of the blanks fired at Upton Park in their last outing, Hughton earlier handed Ricky van Wolfswinkel another chance to finally prove his worth as a travel-weary Spurs headed into Norfolk.
Events of late will have done nothing to ease the pressure on the mis-firing Dutchman; nor on the manager who hoped his record, £8.5m signing last summer would be the man to keep City out of trouble this season. David McNally’s thoughts on the club’s position had made one or two points crystal clear – as in the need for all three.
With the Canaries having seemingly decided that a five-man midfield is the way to go in terms of pressure and possession, the onus on the one ‘up top’ to deliver ratchets up accordingly.
Hence why the decision to start with van Wolfswinkel ahead of Gary Hooper will always come under such examination; scores, City win and the pressure eases. Fires a blank, Norwich lose to Tim Sherwood’s high-flying Londoners and City’s woes merely multiply again. They didn’t. But the point remained.
There was at least one spot of brighter news on the injury front with a welcome sighting of Jonny Howson on the substitutes bench. His calmer head and eye for a shot have been sorely missed over the winter period.
Given the stakes involved, it proved to be something of a gentle opening spell as both sides looked in vain for that early opportunity.
Joseph Yobo’s presence in the heart of that City defence continued to add strength and purpose, while Alexander Tettey offered willing legs in the heart of that oft-changed midfield. Leroy Fer had the licence to roam off van Wolfswinkel.
Snodgrass would duck into the Spurs box only for his final shot to be blocked; Martin Olsson and Nathan Redmond would find space down the left – even if the final, killer delivery eluded them.
Possession was OK; penetration less so – the story of Norwich’s season in a nut-shell.
Danny Rose would flick on a Snodgrass cross that a lurking Sebastien Bassong couldn’t quite latch onto. And the home side were ahead on the corner count; 3-0.
But at either end, both keepers barely had a save to make as the game drifted on. And on into half-time.
The second-half was barely two minutes old when Snodgrass struck. It was that one, moment of attacking quality – from either side – that the game had till then lacked as the Scottish international slipped the wrong side of Rose before sweeping a superb, left-foot shot inside the far upright.
Hughton’s reaction on the bench was instant, urgent and right from the depths of his heart. It could by a life-saver. If Norwich could now hang on against a luke-warm Spurs side.
The danger, of course, was that the goal would finally spark Spurs into life. Though by the same token, if the visitors opened up and poured forward with too much abandon Norwich could add to their tally.
On the hour mark, hearts were firmly in mouths as Bassong’s slip let Emmanuel Adebeyor in on goal; John Ruddy’s timing was perfect as the City keeper saved at the Spurs striker’s feet.
The arrival of Roberto Soldado for Paulinho in the 64th minute added a fresh focal point for Tottenham’s attacking ambitions, but with the Canaries throwing themselves into the defensive fray the lead stood.
Van Wolfswinkel would depart goalless again, but with a decent shift to his name. He had run well for the cause as Hooper looked to do likewise for the final 20 minutes.
The highlight of a fast and furious final ten minutes was an astonishing 25-yard free-kick from Bradley Johnson that cannoned down and away off the underside of the bar.
An inch either way and it would have been ‘Goodnight!’. Redmond went closer; Hooper almost slipped Tettey in.
In the end such missed chances meant little. They had found one and taken it. And that was all that mattered on a famous afternoon at Carrow Road.