City boss Paul Lambert has likened the pressures in Norfolk to those at Celtic Park after the Canaries battled their way to yet another three points against Tranmere Rovers.
With only three league wins all season, the odds were clearly stacked against Rovers before kick-off. But to be fair to them, they made life very difficult for the home side and City had to work very hard for the win.
The Canaries didn’t really get going until the second 45 and the visitors had a golden chance to take the lead when Chris Shuker played in Paul McLaren with the goal at his mercy. But a stunning stop from Fraser Forster kept the scores level and the on-loan ‘keeper was rewarded with the man-of-the-match award for his efforts.
And after Wes Hoolahan’s penalty following a handball from John Welsh in the box, and Gary Doherty’s tap in with 10 minutes left, City claimed their ninth win in their last 10 outings.
But it wasn’t easy by any means. And the Canary boss hinted that there will be many more occasions like this – especially if teams visiting Carrow Road continue to ‘park the bus in front of goal’, as Jose Mourinho once famously said.
“The biggest thing I can say is that the demand is like it is at Celtic. Teams come here and bed themselves in, the crowd get a bit agitated and it takes big players to go and take the ball every time,” said Lambert.
“But I’m delighted to win, it keeps the run going and it keeps everyone pretty happy. I said it was going to be a tough game because of where Tranmere are in the league and the weather wasn’t great either. But we overcame that and we stuck at it which I’m pleased at.
“The players have been great. The expectancy levels are high because of what we’re doing at the minute and I don’t know if the club has had that feeling for a long time.
“The fans that come in their droves expect us to win. All we can do is try and beat what’s in front of us. But the level of performance and consistency level has been terrific.”
Apart from the impressive Forster, penalty scorer Hoolahan was the stand-out performer – especially after the break. And with Grant Holt and Chris Martin amongst the goals in recent weeks as well, Lambert declared himself happy with his front three.
“It takes a big player to step up and score a penalty as Wes did – to have that nerve, knowing you’ve got to score to put your team in front. I think him, Grant and Chrissy have scored about 30 goals between them so far which is a extraordinary return.
“But they will be the first to admit that they need the lads behind them to supply it. And I’m delighted with the group, they’ve been great.”
And as for his 6ft 6 goalkeeper Forster, the City boss admitted that he could have a huge career in the game. With Declan Rudd likely to be out for a while with a knee injury picked up in training, the Hexham-born player’s influence will be even more important.
“It was a world class save by Fraser in the first half. He’s only young but with his frame, you forget he’s only 21. He’s got a hell of a career in front of him if he keeps progressing, listening to people and staying humble.”
And what are the chances of his stay in Norfolk being extended come January? As always, it will be all about cash…
“You better ask the people with the money. We don’t know yet to be honest – a lot depends on different factors, such as finances.”
After the match, Tranmere caretaker boss Les Parry couldn’t hide his anger at the way Norwich took the lead, with the former physio claiming Hoolahan’s opener wasn’t a spot-kick.
But his opposite number in the dugout was in the ‘you win some, you lose some’ camp. Over the course of the season, these things even themselves out…
“I couldn’t see to be honest,” Lambert continued. “The ball was going really quickly and it was hard to see. But we’ve had ones that have gone against us that I never thought were penalties so we’ll take the ones that come our way.
“If I was going to go on about penalties then I’d talk about the one at MK Dons, which still haunts me at times. It happens.”
Refereeing decisions are one thing you can’t do a great deal about. But you can influence fitness levels, and Lambert is happy that slowly, but surely, they are improving.
“They’re getting better, yes. We don’t have many days where we can train them hard because with the amount of games we’ve got, you’re always playing catch up. But as I’ve said before we probably won’t be up to full fitness until after January time.”
CITY: Forster; Otsemobor, Doherty, Askou, Drury; Smith, Russell, Lappin; Hoolahan; Holt, Martin. Subs not used: Theoklitos, Nelson, Hughes, Cureton, Adeyemi, McVeigh, McDonald.