Norwich City were tonight reaching for the smelling salts and feeling slightly dizzy after ending a dramatic day at Carrow Road in the top half of the Championship table.
Victory over bottom-of-the-table Barnsley at Oakwell next weekend and the Canaries would be firmly among the early play-off runners.
It was, said City boss Glenn Roeder tonight, all down to the fact that Lee Croft finally decided to “buy a ticket to the lottery” and having run half the length of Carrow Road with the ball at his feet and played a smart one-two with Jamie Cureton, he at last decided to have a go with his left-foot…
And duly hit the jackpot as the ball glanced off Chris Morgan's forehead and flew on inside Paddy Kenny's right-hand upright to earn City a 1-0 win in the 92nd minute of the contest.
“It hurts me to say it, but today's game was one of those where the result mattered more than the performance – though at times there I thought we had both,” said a delighted Roeder afterwards.
A first home win, a first clean sheet of the season and City sitting almost pretty in 11th spot – their highest league position for what feels like an eternity.
As ever, the Canaries trod a fine line. In-coming centre-half Jonathan Grounds barely put a foot wrong all afternoon. The one-time he did he stumbled to the ground and could watch helplessly as United substitute Danny Webber raced clear on goal.
What followed next was, said Roeder, as good as scoring a goal as David Marshall stood both broad and tall and pulled off a magnificent, spreading save low to his left that should – by rights – have earned him the Man of the Match gong.
Instead that went to Jon Otsemobor who had, in fairness, marked his return to Roeder's starting plans with a clutch of big, direct runs into the heart of the Blades box.
Two minutes into injury time, however, and Carrow Road belonged to just one man – the ever-willing Croft.
“We've been on and on at him in training to use his left,” said Roeder, who watched in despair in the first-half as Croft cut inside his full-back only to roll the ball across the front of the penalty area and invite someone else to shoot.
“I'm thinking: 'You're in, right have a go… even if you have a go and it goes off to the corner flag, at least you've done the right thing…”
Deep into injury time, however, and Croft opted to prove that his left leg wasn't only for standing on as he sent the Canary faithful home with a big, broad grin on their faces.
He'd learned his lesson; hours of practice on the training ground was about to pay off as Cureton neatly rolled the ball back into his stride.
It was a result that also ensured that Roeder Jnr could go to school on Monday morning with his head held high.
“We all have families – wives, girlfriends, children,” said the Canary chief. “And it's not nice for them when Norwich City don't win. And that's what we said to the players on Friday – that it was important for their families too that we won today.
“It's not nice for my son – going to school on a Monday morning with everyone knowing that Norwich had lost. Now he can go there thinking: “Stuff 'em!”
Victory came at a price, however.
Dejan Stefanovic joined John Kennedy among the notable absentees after failing a late fitness test on a badly bruised calf.
“He took a kick to the calf on Wednesday night, but I would be amazed if he's not OK for next Saturday,” said Roeder.
More doubt, however, surrounds the two players who disappeared early – Matty Pattison and Arturo Lupoli. Both have slight hamstring strains; both, said Roeder, are already doubts for that trip to Oakwell.
Having started the game at centre-forward, Pattison's exit found Russell back in centre midfield again; Cureton taking over at centre-forward once Lupoli disappeared after the break.
It was, however, in the heart of that City defence were the most changes came – the on-loan pairing of Elliot Omosuzi and Grounds pretty much holding their own. Even if Marshall had to pull off two more decent stops in the opening period; both wholly over-shadowed by his Webber denial.
Save of the match, however, belonged to Kenny – an unbelievable finger-tip push round the post as an Antoine Sibierski drive appeared to be rearing up and in beneath the bar.
“For me,” said Roeder. “Jonathan Grounds just sums up the type of loan player that I've brought to this club – young, hungry and Premiership. I thought he was excellent today – and Elliot Omosuzi wasn't too far behind him either.”
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