City boss Paul Lambert admitted that super sub Oli Johnson provided a spark just at the right time after his two goals sealed a dramatic 2-1 win over Southend last night.
Aside from his two strikes, with the winner coming in the very final seconds of the contest, the Yorkshireman livened up proceedings as soon as he rose from the bench on 68 minutes.
And just when it was looking like being ‘one of those nights’ for Lambert and an increasingly frustrated home crowd, the injection of Johnson gave City a new lease of life.
There was already one fresh face in from the start in the shape of sponsors’ man-of-the-match Anthony McNamee but while the Norwich chief was clearly delighted with his contribution, Johnson stole all the headlines.
“Yes, we did [need that spark],” said the delighted Scot afterwards. “You have got to remember the same lads have gone week in, week out for weeks on end.
“When you change it you have got to hope you get a reaction from the lads that come in and they did so.
“Oli, being a young lad, has come on, and given us that impetus to go again. He is unpredictable and he has got great feet.
“People don’t realise he has got great feet to get away from people and I thought his header was absolutely top drawer.”
As for McNamee, it was about as perfect a debut as you could wish for and the former Swindon man caused the Shrimpers problems all night with his pace, trickery and the accuracy of his crossing.
His presence on the right really did give City a different dimension in a more traditional 4-4-2 system.
But Lambert was delighted with all his troops and wasn’t getting too excited about certain individuals and formations. As far as he’s concerned, it’s a squad game.
“As everybody knows, he [McNamee] puts in terrific deliveries. We played him on the right to try and get at their full-back and he gives you something different than anybody else.
“It’s his first start in a long while; he’s had to be patient to get in. But I was delighted with everybody that played their part.
“Losing Rusty [Darel Russell] was a blow and I still can’t believe that his red card wasn’t rescinded. We had to adapt but I’m delighted with the lads, I thought they were brilliant.
“Whatever team I pick, everyone is probably as good as each other and I expect them to do the job. Whoever plays on Saturday I’m sure I’ll get everything out of them.
The hard-fought victory keeps the gap to second placed Leeds to three points after the Whites overcame Oldham 2-0 at Elland Road.
But more importantly, after Colchester’s home clash with Brentford was called off and Charlton went down at the Valley to Brighton, there is a seven-point buffer to the play-off zones once again.
And Lambert is keen to ensure that his players’ efforts do not go unnoticed. If you’d had offered him this position back in August…well, you know the rest.
“I always go back to this club not winning their first three games at the start of the season and Leeds and Charlton and even Colchester being miles ahead of them, miles ahead, in goals and in points.
“The turnaround has been huge, no matter how you want to dress it up at the minute, it has been huge.”
Another turnaround has been the levels of fitness, according to the Canary chief, and his side have certainly developed a knack of scoring late goals.
But part of that is down to the Canaries’ desire and commitment as well as their improved condition – especially in the last third of the contest.
“I think it’s both,” he continued. “The fitness, in my own view, wasn’t up to the way I wanted it when we first came in. That isn’t a slight on anyone else it was just my own opinion.
“We’ve got them up to speed and, yes, we’ve picked up one or two injuries along the way but I knew that would happen. The lads have given me everything they’ve got.”
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