Bradley Johnson placed one hand on this year’s Player of the Season award as his 11th goal of the season gave the Canaries a vital 1-0 away win at Brighton this afternoon.
City boss Alex Neil had set out a very simple stall this week – win every game between now and the end of the season and the Norfolk side would be back gracing the top flight again next August.
In the 62nd minute a typically assured finish from the City midfielder put the manager’s words into deeds as the Canaries piled on the pressure at the top of the table.
With Middlesbrough still to come to Carrow Road before a tumultuous race draws to a close with that home game against Fulham, everything remains set fair.
Today – and every other match day from now on – was always going to be about the result. Nothing else will matter. And all that matters was Johnson’s goal. That and the fact that at the other end, Norwich held firm against Chris Hughton’s Seagulls.
Middlesbrough’s 1-0 win kept them two points ahead of City with Bournemouth squeezed in between. It’s a whisker; no more.
“Brighton don’t concede many goals and this is a difficult place to come and win,” said Neil afterwards.
The irony won’t be lost on ex boss Hughton that the one person that made the difference today was Redmond; his ex teenage protege at Birmingham City. Just as much as Sebastien Bassong was at Newcastle.
None of which is of any concern to Neil. He had his result; he had his three points.
“I’ve been quoted before as saying that we played well and didn’t win – and that’s no use. That’s how it is at the moment.
“So although we didn’t manage to play at our best today, we still managed to win the game which is pleasing,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk.
“Sometimes you have to mix it up and win ugly. Do whatever it takes really to get the three points. And in terms of the effort and the determination of the players, I thought we deserved to win the game. I thought we were the better side.”
Once again, Neil would win plaudits for the manner and timing of his substitutions – in particular the early arrival of Nathan Redmond after the interval.
The England Under-21 replaced Wes Hoolahan after 56 minutes; six minutes later and it was his pull-back that Johnson gleefully converted and send the travelling support in raptures. The manager had found the one moment that mattered.
“Nathan Redmond coming on was a real catalyst for the game,” Neil revealed.
“He had a real impact on the game; he came on and created an opportunity for us and up until that stage there hadn’t been too many clear-cut opportunities. All credit to him (Redmond) – I thought his attitude was fantastic.”
The spark had been found. In what was always going to be a cagey game against a typically organised Hughton side, Norwich had the advantage. And with that rebuilt back four delivering again, so the Canaries continued to quietly closing in on the promotion kill.
It wasn’t without its moments as Rohan Ince, Chris O’Grady and Teixeira all gained a glimpse of John Ruddy’s goal.
But there was that air of defensive assurance to City that has come with the return of Bassong to the heart of that back line. Equally, few now question Russell Martin’s ability to command a central berth. At least at this level.
Throw in Johnson’s unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time with the right finish on days when the frontline fails to deliver, then Norwich are looking promotion part.
And in Neil they appear to have a young manager on a mission – a mission that now continues at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday when Carrow Road will rock.