Norwich boss Paul Lambert admitted that a gruelling week finally caught up with them after the Canaries ground out a 2-1 win against Hartlepool at Carrow Road.
City were certainly not at their fluent best and though they clearly missed the presence of Grant Holt, tiredness was a major factor after two energy-sapping wins over Brentford and Walsall.
But first-half goals from Cody McDonald and debutant Michael Rose, after Neil Austin gave Pools the lead, were enough to keep the Norfolk club three points clear at the top of League One and create history by notching up 11 home wins in a row.
“It was a really tough game and I knew it would be after the week we’ve had. But I’m delighted,” said the City boss afterwards.
“I’ll take one performance like that in 19 or whatever it is. You can’t play well every time and you’ve got to give Hartlepool credit.
“They played really well and as I said, we’ve had a really tough week with the Brentford game, playing with 10 men, and then going to Walsall on a heavy pitch.”
One major plus was the accomplished performance of loanee Rose, who not only found the net, but looked assured throughout.
And Lambert was delighted with the impact his new signing made. After all, he’s got big boots to fill.
“I thought he was terrific considering he just joined us yesterday. He doesn’t even know a lot of their names and it’s never easy to come in and play straight away.
“It would have easy for me to put Rhoys Wiggins in but we felt he needed games and that we required someone of Michael’s stature because Adam Drury has been exceptional.”
City were first out of the blocks and in the third minute, Wes Hoolahan had a decent opportunity but his shot was well gathered from a tight angle.
It was a sluggish start from the home side though and Hartlepool were growing in confidence. Chris Turner’s men could have even taken the lead in the 14th minute but Colin Larkin’s shot flew wide of the post when well placed.
As the half wore on, the Canary faithful were getting restless and Hartlepool took the lead on 26 minutes through Austin’s piledriver.
The Pools defender was a good 25 yards out but City were slow to close him down and paid the ultimate price as his shot arrowed into the net.
But Lambert’s men didn’t have too long to wait to get back on level terms as almost immediately from the restart, McDonald made the most of his starting opportunity by heading the league leaders level from Russell Martin’s sweet cross.
Incredibly, the Canaries then took the lead on 31 minutes and it was certainly a sweet moment for new boy Rose.
Chris Martin did well to play the defender in on the left flank and his arrowed shot flew straight past ‘keeper Scott Flinders. Just over half an hour gone and we had two strikes worthy of winning any game.
It was an open contest and both sides were going for the jugular but after a crazy six minute spell, there were no more goals before the break, despite Pools trying their luck from distance on more than one occasion.
City started the second 45 the brightest and could have made it three just a minute in, but Korey Smith’s header from Simon Lappin’s cross was well over.
The Canaries were pressing for that two-goal cushion without tearing the visitors apart but on 59, Denis Behan had a glorious opportunity to make it 2-2 after a mix-up between Gary Doherty and Michael Nelson.
But despite being clear on goal, Fraser Forster saved the day yet again with an excellent block to deny Turner’s men.
It’s fair to say that things just weren’t clicking for Norwich as they have been in recent weeks and while the commitment and drive was there as always – that’s the minimum Lambert expects – they were finding it hard to create openings.
Darel Russell had a looping header easily gathered but the lack of clear cut chances at either end summed up the second period and in truth, the game petered out quite rapidly.
But it’s points that win prizes and after Charlton slipped up again with a 1-1 Valley draw against Tranmere, it was another good day’s work for the table toppers.