Norwich boss Paul Lambert couldn’t hide his delight after a courageous 1-0 win at Charlton this afternoon sealed City’s promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
The victory in SE7, coupled with Swindon’s 1-1 County Ground draw with Walsall, means that the Norfolk club have finally got over the finishing line and the scenes at the end were special for everyone connected with the club.
3,200 travelling supporters – and they could have sold many, many more tickets – went absolutely ballistic at the end and you could argue that it was written in the stars after last season’s relegation at the same venue.
It was a solitary Michael Nelson goal, a header from a 34th minute Simon Lappin corner, that won the day for the Canaries and with Leeds losing 3-2 at Gillingham, it also means the Carrow Road side need just a point from their final three games to win the League One title.
The Addicks threw the kitchen sink at City from minute one but the second-half in particular was one-way traffic and Fraser Forster was in outstanding form, keeping Nicky Bailey and Deon Burton at bay with a string of fine saves.
But the Norfolk club had their moments, with Lappin going close and Stephen Hughes having a goal disallowed in the opening 45, and it was certainly City’s day, with the overriding sense of relief shining through at the final whistle. Lambert, like everyone else of a yellow and green persuasion, was over the moon.
“I’m absolutely delighted for the players and the fans because they’re the most important people at the club,” he said, speaking to the press afterwards. “It’s great also for Delia [Smith] and her husband Michael because they’ve had to take a lot of criticism.
“I bet this is a different press conference to the one here last year when Norwich had just been relegated. It was important to get back at the first attempt because the club could languish at this level and it was vital to do so for the fan base because they are extraordinary.
“When you need them they back you to the hilt. And I am more delighted for the players and the fans than for myself today.
“It was bizarre at the start [the 7-1 defeat to Colchester] – the club had been relegated, they had lost their manager and people were running onto the pitch. Everything was going wrong.
“It’s been an unbelievable turnaround and all we had to do was manage the players through it. It’s the players who go out and play the game and the fans who are there home and away – it’s quite extraordinary.”
When asked if he believed they had a real chance of promotion upon his arrival in Norfolk, Lambert wasn’t so sure. The Scot wouldn’t have taken on the challenge of succeeding Bryan Gunn if he didn’t think there was something to work with, but you get the impression that the speed of the Canary turnaround has surprised even him.
“Did I always feel this was a possibility? Not when I saw them get beat 7-1. They were good players but that does not matter, you have to have a team.
“You can have the best players in the world but you have to get them there as a team. But collectively they have been terrific.”
The former Celtic hero was also quick to praise the exceptional Forster, who really did save the day at the Valley. And Lambert – who is celebrating his first promotion as a manager – confirmed his admiration for the 6ft 2in ‘keeper.
“Without putting any pressure on him I think he’ll be world class. He’s been colossal for us and I don’t think there is a better Under-21 goalkeeper anywhere.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with him next season but Newcastle have been promoted and their goalkeeper coach rates him very highly.”
City: Forster; Spillane, Doherty, Nelson, Drury; R Martin, Russell, Hughes, Lappin; C Martin (Elliott 86), Johnson (Rose 64). Subs not used: Rudd, Gill, McVeigh, McNamee, McDonald.