City boss Paul Lambert praised the raw finishing ability of Chris Martin after his late, late header sealed a huge 1-0 win over title rivals Leeds United.
The result means that the league leaders now enjoy an enormous 11 point lead over the Whites, and Simon Grayson’s men will now be looking over their shoulder, with Millwall’s 5-0 rout of Stockport putting them level with the Elland Road club.
In all honesty, it was a cagey affair and Leeds will feel a little hard done by after not getting any reward for their endeavours. But when you are riding high, as the Canaries clearly are, the ball rolls for you.
And it would take a minor miracle for the table-toppers not to be celebrating promotion sooner rather than later after this monumental victory over the faltering Yorkshire giants.
City chief Lambert will certainly not be popping any champagne corks just yet, but he was thrilled with the battling victory – and it was an almighty tussle – over United.
“I’m absolutely delighted, I thought the lads were terrific,” he said afterwards. “It was a really tough game against a very good side but the goal was a big moment in the game.
“I always think that something can happen; we’ve played loads of games where there have been late goals. We conceded one last week and it was our turn today.”
The 89th minute winner from Stephen Hughes’ sweet cross – which sent most of Carrow Road ballistic – was a moment of genuine quality and it was always going to take a sprinkle of magic to clinch this contest.
And after dropping Martin to the bench for the first time in a long while, Lambert will be delighted at his response – even if the Scot revealed that his absence from the starting eleven was due to a touch of fatigue.
“I was elated with the goal,” continued the Canary boss. “Chrissy still had a bit of work to do to get his head to it and I haven’t seen many more natural finishers than him.
“People tend to forget he’s only 21 and I’ve got to protect him – but as a natural finisher he’s terrific. I thought he was looking a bit tired and I had a chat with him in the week. He was great about it and I thought he was excellent when he came on.”
The league leaders certainly started the brighter of the two and they forced two corners in as many minutes.
As the half progressed though, Leeds, knowing that they needed the points more than their hosts, started to force the issue.
Simon Lappin had a decent chance after a one-two with Wes Hoolahan, with his effort sailing just over, but possession-wise, the Whites were on top – even though they had to wait until the 24th minute for their first real chance.
Ex-Birmingham midfielder Neil Kilkenny made space for himself and unleashed a decent drive that wasn’t too far over Fraser Forster’s bar and the second-placed Yorkshire outfit were certainly growing in confidence.
City did have a chance to make their presence felt on 38, when the ever-physical Richard Naylor chopped down Grant Holt on the edge of the box, but Russell Martin’s free-kick only found a Yorkshire body.
On the stroke of half-time, skipper Holt found himself free in box after a game of pinball but despite having plenty of space, the Canary hitman could only side-foot his effort over the bar.
The second 45 started with the visitors on the front foot again and if you were being cynical, you could say the table-toppers were playing for a draw.
However, I don’t think that’s Lambert’s style, and on 55, Gary Doherty had a fair chance from a corner. Unfortunately for the Norfolk side, the big centre-back – who was outstanding at the other end – could only head over.
The Canaries were on the attack only a minute later but again they couldn’t find the target, with Stephen Elliott firing high and wide after being put through by a wonderful Hoolahan pass.
The game had suddenly come to life though and at the other end, substitute Mike Grella found himself through on goal. But after a twist and a turn, his tame shot could only find the hands of Forster.
The dangerous Robert Snodgrass was the next to see the whites of Forster’s eyes, but his curling left-foot shot was always going past the City ‘keeper’s post.
In truth, it got scrappier after that, with both teams struggling to fashion any chances of note, until THAT moment on 89 minutes, when a beautiful cross from substitute Hughes found fellow bench-warmer Martin. To give the Beccles youngster credit, his glancing header was perfection, nestling in the corner of Shane Higgs’ net.
There was still time for more drama, however, when Whites sub Tresor Kandol saw red – only a minute after coming on – for an altercation with Darel Russell.
But it was all about that dramatic late winner, and it can only be a matter of time before the Canaries are celebrating a swift return to the Championship.
City: Forster; R Martin, Doherty, Nelson, Drury; Smith (Hughes 85), Russell, Lappin; Hoolahan (McNamee 72); Holt, Elliott (C Martin 62). Subs not used: Rudd, Johnson, Rose, Whitbread.
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