Grant Holt’s 30th goal of the season proved more than enough to keep the Canaries bang on course for both a League One title and a swift Championship return after this afternoon’s 2-1 win over strugglers Stockport County.
The skipper’s latest match-winning strike midway through the first period made him the first City player to break that 30-goal in a season mark since the legendary Ron Davies in 1963-64.
It was a statistic to warm the cockles of many a Canary heart after something of a luke warm second-half showing in which the zip and invention of the injured Wes Hoolahan was sorely missed.
That said, it was still ‘Job done!’ as far as Norwich chief Paul Lambert was concerned. Particularly after events at Prenton Park on Friday night; a sore point that still lingered in the manager’s thoughts.
“Yes – I’m delighted with that,” said Lambert, with the mathematicians suggesting the Canaries were now just seven points shy of guaranteed promotion.
“We could still be playing now and we’d still not get a decision,” added the City chief wryly, his players responding in the best possible fashion to that controversial Tranmere reverse.
“That’s another game off the list and – as I said – I’m delighted with the response after Friday night. It was tough – Stockport are a decent side. They’re just having a hard time at the minute as everyone knows. I wish I’d ever had a game that was easy – but we deserved to win.”
If Anthony McNamee’s deft, third minute opener was Lambert’s matchday plan working to a ‘T’ – the Canary winger dropping an excellent, corner-of-the-box lob into the far corner – what then followed some ten minutes later was the manager’s best intentions going straight out of the nearest window.
It was Zak Whitbread’s weak clearance that first left the home side suddenly on the back-foot as one-time Liverpool youngster Richie Partridge wriggled free on the penalty spot and it forced an excellent save with his feet from young Declan Rudd.
Alas, Norwich’s respite did not last long. Jabo Ibehre picked up the loose ball, shrugged off the attentions of Michael Nelson before calmly slotting ball home as a covering Adam Drury desperately looked to clear.
Coming hard on the back of Friday night’s misfortunes on Merseyside, Lambert’s re-shuffled side suddenly had a slightly nervy air to them; hopes that this might prove to be a walk in the proverbial park looking all-too hopeful.
The crowd, too, sensed the doubt; one would feed off the other as the Canaries looked to restore the natural, League One order.
Fortunately skipper Holt was on hand to do just that. McNamee’s deep, 24th minute free-kick found Whitbread rising highest at the far post.
Keeper Owain Fon Williams scrambled the downward header clear, only for a lurking Darel Russell to push the ball back into the path of Holt who smashed his 30th goal of the campaign home through a clutch of bodies.
The sigh of relief was audible on the far side of the Wensum as City regained their initial composure.
“It’s been a massive season for him,” said Lambert, as he reflected on Holt’s 30-goal achievement. “He’s been terrific for me – and, more importantly, he’s been terrific for this football club. And no matter which way you want to look at it, to get 30 goals is a terrific result.”
The game should have been ripped completely from Stockport’s grasp three minutes before the interval as Holt sprang wholly free down the inside-left channel.
His low cross skipped through the six-yard box with Fon Williams pinned to his near post; alas the final Hatters defender did just enough to persuade Chris Martin to guide his six-yard effort onto the base of an upright; the goal gaping wide open.
After the break and it was becoming increasingly apparent what the absent Wes Hoolahan brought to the party – that final piece of attacking invention to which, at this level, few teams had an answer.
A “little thigh strain” ruled him out of the fray; just as a dead leg accounted for Gary Doherty. In their absence Martin would hit a post for a second time; Holt would be denied the rebound by a diving John Mullins; Simon Lappin would almost bundle another McNamee cross in at the far post.
At the other end, Rudd remained a virtual spectator as the Canaries held firm. It was, as Lambert suggested, just another big job done; one more potential banana skin avoided as City march on towards the title and Holt carves out his place in Norfolk folklore.
City: Rudd; R Martin, Nelson, Whitbread, Drury; McNamee, Smith (Hughes 84), Russell, Lappin; Holt, C Martin (Johnson 75). Subs not used: Steer, Gill, Elliott, Spillane, Rose