Canary keeper David Marshall was rightly all smiles this weekend after his early contender for 'Save of the Season' ensured that Norwich's excellent efforts against league leaders Birmingham did not go wholly unrewarded.
For while Glenn Roeder's men might still be scrabbling around for their first win of the new season, there was little disgrace to be had in the manner of yesterday's 1-1 draw with the in-form Blues.
The performance was the best yet; it was just the result that was the same as. Particularly for as long as the Canaries remain over-reliant on stand-in striker Darel Russell for both a touch of physical presence and a goal-scoring touch in the opposition box.
“We've played te full 90 minutes there and there's hardly anybody there that you can have a moan at,” said Marshall, swift to acknowledge the supporters' part in a decent afternoon's entertainment at Carrow Road.
For all Norwich's big man woes, the City faithful recognised a decent effort against the league's early leaders. Even Sebastian Larsson's headed opener just before the break failed to dent the home crowd's show of support come the half-time whisle.
“The fans all stayed till the end and it was a standing ovation at the end – and you don't see that a lot when we've drawn the game.
“There are other players in there that have been booed off – that it's only the result that matters. And that gives you a lift as well,” said the City No1. The Canaries may still find themselves stuck in 19th without a win to their name, but for now they don't look like a bottom six side.
They look like a side in desperate need of a big, strapping, great striker to get on the end of every Ryan Bertrand cross; to nick a little header on for Arturo Lupoli to chase.
“You know when you've played well and you've worked hard – and we did do that in the first-half. And we did that again [in the second] with a great goal by Rusty [Russell]in the first minute. A great time to score – and we played well again without really creating great chances.”
Jamie Cureton would see a free header loop over, John Kennedy would direct his header wide – there were bits and bobs. Nothing that required Maik Taylor to make the kind of save that Marshall pulled out of his top drawer right at the death.
“The fans would have been so disappointed – and so would the boys – if we'd lost the game,” said Marshall, as Phillips motored into the Canary box with time, space and experience all on his side. This was a player who had, after all, already bagged a 90th minute winner against Sheffield United on the opening day of the season; a 77th minute winner against Southampton a fortnight later.
“It was just a case that it had to be saved – we'd had a few good performances, but poor results and we couldn't afford another one. So it was good to make the save – but, as I say, it was also good not lose so near to the end.”
Instinct, he said, took over; there was no real secret to his late success.
“He's proved himself a good goal-scorer and it was just a case of spreading yourself,” said the City keeper, as Phillips' indecisive effort cannoned away off Marshall's out-stretched leg. 'Scotland's, Scotland's No 1, No1…' sang the Barclay ahead of Marshall's disappearance later this week for the start of Scotland's World Cup qualifying campaign.
He was swift to point out the role that both sponsors Man of the Match Dejan Stefanovic and his one-time Celtic pal John Kennedy played in keeping the likes of Phillips, James McFadden and Marcus Bent under wraps for much of the contest. It was only right at the death that first McFadden and then Phillips threatened to ruin everyone's day.
“It was the one chance in the last minute – it was our corner, we'd pushed everybody forward to try and get the win that we've deserved this season. But they've got that little bit of quality up front and you just deal with it as it happens.”
The Canaries can at least go into the first fortnight break of the season on the back of a three-game unbeaten run – or for those who prefer their glass to be half-empty, without a win in their first four games and back in the kind of zone that they ended up in for much of last season.
But, for most judges – Roeder included – the first 45 minutes of yesterday's contest was the best 45 minutes of City's season thus far. They ae playing bright, urgent, inventive football. With just one missing ingredient. To do that against one of the obvious favourites for the title is no mean feat. But for as log as the Canaries remain without a win, the 'buts' will linger.
Football remains a results business. Particularly at the start of a season; get out of the blocks early win-wise. Now they have to travel to Home Park, Plymouth, in a fortnight's time still looking for their first success.
“The thing that we've got to get is the consistency – and scoring goals,” said Marshall, as a big 24-hours on the transfer front loomed with tomorrow's closure of the summer transfer window.
“But we know that if we play like that we can beat anybody in the division – and if we keep consistent, we'll be up there.”