City boss Glenn Roeder admitted that a certain fat lady was already waming up her vocal chords before Darel Russell smashed his 89th minute winner home yesterday.
The 1-0 win over a stubborn Preston North End side swept the Canaries up three places in the Championship table and left them just seven points short of the play-off zone.
Since that 3-0 away win at Plymouth Argyle where the club's fortunes his rock bottom, Roeder has now presided over a run of 14 league games in which they have lost just once – to a last-minute winner away at Stoke.
Yesterday's 1-0 win over the Lilywhites took City's recent points tally to a remarkable 29 from an available 42 – a point more than the two-point-per-game promotion formula.
Little wonder that one or two people are now starting to look more intently up the table than down it with Norwich now eight points clear of the drop zone.
“Was it Kenny Dalglish who coined the phrase 'It's not over until the fat lady sings?'” said Roeder afterwards. “I must admit she was warming up…”
It was a far from vintage Canary display – as the City boss was the first to admit. Norwich barely got going at all for the first-half and only spluttered fitfully into life in the second.
The arrival of Jamie Cureton for a subdued Ched Evans add a freshness to the pot and but for a fabulous, one-handed save from Preston No1 Andy Lonergan the City substitute could have given the home side an earlier lead. Instead, it was left to a magnificent chest and left-foot slash from Russell into the bottom corner to seal all three points.
At the other end, the arrival of Matthew Bates and Alex Pearce kept Gary Doherty and Jason Shackell firmly on their game – Preston wriggled free just once as substitute Brett Ormerod forced David Marshall into a fine, spreading save as the game finally opened up in the last 15 minutes. Shackell, in particular, appears to have rediscovered all the confidence and form that drained from his game when it came with the captain's armband attached.
“If you're going to win 1-0, it's the best time to win I would have thought,” said the Canary chief, alive to his side's early failings.
“We're not a squad of excuse-makers. We expect praise when we play well, but we hold our hands up – first-half we were nowhere near our best. They didn't cause us too many problems; Marshy didn't have too many saves.
“But, thankfully, half-time came and we could make them realise the importance of spreading the play and using our width and getting our crosses in. And certainly getting more efforts on goal – I think in the first-half we probably had one shot and one header. I can't remember too much more which isn't acceptable for the home team.”
There wasn't, in fairness, anything to get over-excited about as Roeder stayed loyal to the same starting 11 that had prised such an excellent result out of Southampton in mid-week. So for all the flurry of excitement and expectation that greeted the four-strong loan arrivals on Thursday, there were only two on show. Bates and 18-year-old winger James Henry made it as far as the bench – the latter at Darren Huckerby's expense.
Bates, granted a 35-minute run-out at right-back after the break, produced a very composed performance for a player who had last kicked a ball in any sort of anger 14 months ago. Given that in that time he had ruptured the cruciates in both knees, once in November 2006 and again in July 2007, it was easy to see why Boro still hold their youth product in such high esteem.
In the end – and it was very much at the end – it took a big knock-down from the ageless Dion Dublin to give a prowling Russell the chance to bag his fourth goal of the season from the edge of the Preston penalty area.
“It was a wonderful strike off his so-called weaker foot,” said Roeder. “And that's gained us the three points – and it's a huge three points if you look at the table.”
And all from a pretty first and second gear only effort. “We played a lot better against Leicester than we did overall today, but in the second-half we played very well. But against Leicester we created enough chances to have won three games, let alone two.
“Charlton we played very well. The only average, or poor, performance at home has been Wolves where it was only in the last 15 minutes where we came to life and we nicked a point that day,” said Roeder, quizzed as to whether the Canaries were starting to just lose their way a little at home. Had the contest ended 0-0, it would have been City's fifth straight Carrow Road draw.
“It would be nice to score a few more goals at home in front of our own fans, but it's not for the want of trying.”
He wasn't, he said, looking any further than the next game – the fact that for almost the first time this season Norwich were nearer the top six than the bottom three was of no immediate interest. A lunchtime trip to Ninian Park was.
“It gives us cause to be confident going to Cardiff next week,” he said. But does he dream of the play-offs?
“I'm not a dreamer. I let the others dream. But at the end of October our fans weren't dreaming with eight points,” as Roeder looked back at that darkest hour in the club's recent history.
“I think it's quite unbelievable to have achieved 38 points since the end of October. We were nailed. Make no mistake about it,” added the City chief, admitting that for all their optimism it would have been a very brave man who would have predicted what followed.
“When we came in here with all the positive talking, we were six points adrift. To be eight points above the bottom three is an unbelievable turnaround. It's been achieved by hard work, good play, excellent team spirit and all of the signings have played their part.”