City boss Paul Lambert praised the character of his players as the Canaries bounced back from their FA Cup exit with a convincing 3-0 win at Southend last night.
Despite their tremendous recent run, it was always going to be interesting to see how Lambert’s men coped with the weekend setback at Carlisle. And they passed the test with flying colours after Grant Holt’s brace and Korey Smith’s strike sealed the points.
The first half was a lively affair with City shading it after Holt and Simon Lappin went close from distance. But the Shrimpers were having their say and the on loan Jabo Ibehre, keen to make an impression on boss Steve Tilson, was causing the Canaries problems with his pace.
But the visitors took control after the break and when the City captain broke the deadlock in the 68th minute, with a beautiful finish after Smith’s pass, there was only going to be one winner.
The tireless Smith made it two 11 minutes later after Chris Martin played him in and despite a tight angle, the Canary Academy product shot across the ‘keeper to make it two. And in stoppage time, after substitute Luke Daley was fouled in the box, Holt stroked it home to rub salt into Southend wounds.
And Lambert could not hide his delight afterwards at a job well done. His troops were now sitting pretty in third place.
“It takes big players to come back when you’ve had a knock but the expectancy levels at this club demand that we try and do that. But I thought the lads were great,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“Southend were not going to let us do what we wanted with the ball. Their lads are good, honest professionals; it’s a tough place to come this.
“We have to earn the right to win football matches. But all credit to the lads for the way they kept on going.
“I’m not buying into this thought that we’ve just got to turn up to win. This football club was on its knees when we came in. But we’ve managed to get results and the turnaround has been terrific.”
Smith, in the absence of the injured Darel Russell, put in the hard yards in midfield but despite his excellent showing, it was Holt who was the star of the show yet again. The summer signing’s tally now stands at 18 and considering we’re only at the start of December, that’s some feat.
“His goalscoring since I’ve been at the club has been terrific, as a person he’s been great and as a footballer he’s been exceptional. But as a unit, the lads have been great,” Lambert added.
The City chief made three changes to his line-up, with Russell Martin making his debut at the expense of Jon Otsemobor, Stephen Hughes replacing dead leg victim Russell and Jens Berthel Askou returning in a swap for Michael Nelson.
And despite having to make another change at half-time, with Tom Adeyemi coming on for Adam Drury, the Scot was pleased with the balance of his side. It was, he said, time for some fresh legs.
“I just thought we needed some sort of freshening up somewhere, a lot of the lads have played a lot of games and whether it was Russell or somebody else we just needed something a little bit different and it worked.
“Adam’s hurt his ankle but hopefully it’s not too bad and he’ll be OK for Saturday as he’s been excellent for me. I hope it’s not too bad, we’ll just have to wait and see when the swelling goes down.”
The victory in Essex, coupled with Colchester’s 1-0 defeat at Brentford, means the Canaries now occupy their highest league position of the season. But despite all eyes now turning to Leeds and Charlton in the automatic promotion places, Lambert revealed that City will just worry about themselves for the time being. The rest will take care of itself.
“All we can do is try and win. If Leeds United win every game from now to the end of the season then they will deserve to go up.
“Since we’ve come in we’ve had to play catch up. But it’s looking a lot healthier than it was three months ago that’s for sure.”
City: Forster; R.Martin, Doherty, Askou, Drury (Adeyemi 46); Smith (Nelson 90), Hughes, Lappin; Hoolahan (Daley 80); C.Martin, Holt. Subs not used: Steer, McNamee, McVeigh, McDonald.