City boss Paul Lambert refused to let his frustration at Grant Holt’s sending off ruin the moment after a gutsy 1-0 win over Brentford put Norwich top of League One on goal difference.
The way in which the Canaries saw off a spirited Bees side was impressive. But to do so with only 10 men for over half the match, after the City captain was shown a straight red by referee Scott Rushton for an alleged stamp on Toumani Diagouraga, showed character in abundance.
The victory, sealed by Chris Martin’s 77th minute winner, means the Canaries have now equalled the club’s ’10 straight home wins in one season’ record.
And the Scot was absolutely delighted with his troops yet again. Every single one of them put in a shift; and then some.
“I thought the lads were extraordinary,” said Lambert afterwards. “With what transpired, it was a great game to win and it was a big, big effort.
“Have I got any complaints over the red card? Yes I have. If the referee had have done his job properly in the first instance, it would have been a free-kick for us.
“If he’d have done that, the incident doesn’t happen. There is no advantage in his decision whatsoever. I really don’t know why he didn’t give the free-kick.
“But red cards can galvanise the crowd, which it did do, and this place was absolutely rocking today. The lads grasped it and we had to go for it.”
It was a cracking encounter and the Bees certainly played their part. But when you’re riding high, you tend to get the rub of the green and City will be absolutely chuffed with another huge three points.
The opening period was a lively affair and though the Canaries enjoyed the best of it in terms of chances, the Bees certainly looked up for the challenge.
In fairness, both sides looked sharp and full of confidence and from the very first minute, you could tell that the west Londoners hadn’t come here to lie down.
The first clear cut chance went to the home side on 12 minutes when Simon Lappin’s corner was met by Michael Nelson, his header was, however, well blocked on the line.
A minute later, Lappin was at it again with C Martin on the end of his superb delivery. But Bees ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny was up to the task, making a superb diving save.
The Canary faithful were treated to some good news before kick-off, with Martin signing up for another three-and-a-half year spell in Norfolk, and the striker’s tail was clearly up.
But while City were looking dangerous, the visitors were desperate to prove their worth and Myles Weston’s powerful shot from the edge of the box was well parried by Fraser Forster on 32.
Six minutes later, however, the Bees had the best chance of the half when a floated free-kick fell to the head of Ipswich loanee Tommy Smith, who was unmarked at the back post. Luckily for the Canaries, he could not direct it on target.
The biggest talking point of the opening period came after 41 minutes though with that sending off and regardless of what happened immediately before the incident, Holt does have a tendency to get himself in trouble. On another day, it could have landed his team in hot water.
If City were aggrieved at the decision, it certainly showed at the start of the second-half and they could well have broken the deadlock through Adam Drury.
Nelson’s planted header at the back post fell nicely to the left-back but it was Szczesny again who clawed it out of the net.
The Bees then went up the other end and it took another Forster stop to keep the scores level when he saved low at his near post from Leon Legge.
To their credit though, Norwich adapted to their 10 men status well and the lack of goals wasn’t for the want of trying.
The volume levels had been cranked up inside Carrow Road and the players were feeding on the vibe, with Martin again trying his luck from distance. With Holt now off the pitch, the 21-year-old was certainly stepping up to the plate.
It was certainly end-to-end stuff though and the Bees had another great opportunity on 65, when Sam Wood’s powerful shot from 25 yards out crashed the inside of Forster’s post. Carl Cort could only arrow the rebound back at the Canary ‘keeper.
The home side were still prodding and pushing though and how there hadn’t been a goal up to this point was quite remarkable really.
But on 77, it finally came and it was the trickery of substitute Oli Johnson that unlocked the Brentford defence. His vision played in Martin and he slipped the ball under the ‘keeper. Carrow Road went bananas.
The inevitable cries of “We are top of the league” rang out but how the Bees didn’t level matters six minutes later is anyone’s guess.
O’Connor’s sharp shot was well parried by man-of-the-match Forster but Weston couldn’t find the net with the rebound when it looked easier to score.
And after a nervy final period, including four minutes of stoppage time, that was that. Do you get the feeling it’s City’s year?
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