City boss Paul Lambert spoke of his pride and delight after the Canaries clinched the League One title with a 2-0 Carrow Road win over Gillingham this afternoon.
It wasn’t vintage Norwich by any means, and they had Fraser Forster to thank for keeping them level, but second-half goals from Darel Russell and Michael Nelson were enough to carry them over the line.
Russell’s 74th minute chip, which hit the bar and crossed over the line from around 25 yards out, was against the run of play but the goal brought City to life and, in truth, it killed off any Gills hopes.
Michael Nelson hit his second goal – a bullet header from a corner – in seven days on 82 and the scene was set for a title party, with those in yellow in the mood to celebrate.
And Lambert, who admitted that it was an “emotional” moment for him, was a very happy man afterwards. Despite the lack of champagne football on show today, it was most certainly a job very well done.
“The table doesn’t lie, we have been the best team and what the lads have done has been nothing short of sensational. I’m absolutely delighted for them.
“We’ve been consistent all season and we’ve played a really high level of football at times. Sometimes we’ve had to win ugly but the lads have got a great desire and we’ve won a lot of games in the last 15 minutes.
“The crowd have recognised that and if you get them on your side, you’ve got a chance. The players keep going, they know they are always going to create chances and Darel’s goal was terrific today – it was very fitting.”
Lambert is, of course, used to winning honours as a player – after all, we’re talking about a European Cup winner here. But this is the Scot’s first piece of silverware as a manager and he revealed that the emotions are exactly the same.
“It’s the same feeling,” he continued. “It gives you great memories and I don’t know how old Norwich City is, but I’d like to know how many times they’ve actually lifted something.
“It doesn’t matter what league you are in, there are not many times that you lift a trophy so you may as well cherish it because before you know it, football will kick you. While it’s here, you may as well enjoy it.
“When we first came to the club, it had been beaten 7-1, season tickets were thrown on to the pitch and the manager had gone. Leeds and Charlton were so far ahead of us and we had to turn it around.
“I have a sense of joy and I’m so proud of the lads and the football club. It’s a terrific club, that’s for sure.”
As for the contest, it was a very flat first-half in all fairness and even though City shaded it, many would have expected a bit more flair and goalmouth action. But with Carrow Road in full party mode, you couldn’t really grumble.
The liveliest player in yellow was undoubtedly Chris Martin and the two best chances of the half fell to the Beccles-born forward.
On 16 minutes, Martin fired a free-kick over but two minutes later, he almost fashioned a City opener. The returning Korey Smith played a wonderful chipped ball through to the 21-year-old and he did well to control it. Martin’s fizzed shot, however, was just wide of the Gills post.
But the Kent side, still looking for a massive three points in their survival bid, were much the better side in the first 15 minutes of the second period.
Dennis Oli had two wonderful opportunities to give his team a shock lead but both times, when clean through, his shot couldn’t beat Forster in the Norwich goal.
Sandwiched in between those two efforts was an Andy Barcham shot on 54 minutes, but his curled shot didn’t trouble the excellent on-loan goalkeeper.
Grant Holt was the first City player to trouble Alan Julian’s goal in the second-half and he wasn’t too far away on 65 when the Canary talisman chested it down and volleyed just past the post.
Nine minutes later though, Norwich had their lead and it was a collector’s item for Russell, with his chipped effort adjudged to be over the line after hitting the underside of the bar.
The goal seemed to spark City into life and moments later, Gary Doherty headed narrowly over Julian’s goal.
But the title was well and truly wrapped up on 82 minutes and defender Nelson made it two goals in two games with another header from a Simon Lappin corner. The vast majority of the Carrow Road crowd were in raptures and boy had they deserved it. If Carlsberg did Saturday afternoons…
City: Forster; Spillane, Doherty, Nelson, Rose; Smith, Russell, Hughes (Lappin 66), McNamee (Elliott 46); Holt (Johnson 85), Martin. Subs not used: Rudd, Gill, McVeigh, Drury.