It was uncomfortably cold and a tad expensive, but the match at Wycombe at the start of the year was also the real beginning of Norwich City’s romp to promotion.
There have been many significant milestones along the route back to the Championship but the trip to Adams Park on the second day of 2010 was surely the first moment when Paul Lambert’s troops were able to see where the road ahead might lead.
City’s 1-0 win carried them into the top two for the first time and began the most successful month of the campaign. In fact, January was one the only month of the entire season when City’s results were better than anyone else’s in the entire division.
They won all their six League One matches and improved their goal difference by 11. January included that romp on the rain-soaked pudding of a pitch at Colchester and a victory secured late on the bare disgrace of pitch at Walsall.
It was the month that, whatever the conditions, Norwich looked like the Champions they were to become. But it began by despatching Wycombe with a single goal.
In truth, Wycombe created some good chances and on another day might have nicked something. But not on that day, because several of the ingredients that would carry Norwich to the title were beginning to gel.
Let me list them.
Wes Hoolahan revelled in his role at the apex of City’s midfield but did not restrict himself to duties in the centre of the pitch. If he fancied a jaunt out on the left, he went there.
Wycombe didn’t know where he would be next or what he would do. His touch, vision and invention were a class above anything they were used to.
Gary Doherty, back from suspension, and Michael Nelson, who played on after being injured by an unpunished late challenge, were forging a mutual admiration society. Who’d have thought, after watching them together in that calamitous first match of the season, they could form such a resolute and effective partnership?
Two more key pairings were growing in understanding. The holes Grant Holt bashed in the Wycombe defence were exploited by Chris Martin’s bright running. And, similarly, in midfield Darel Russell’s pugnacious tackling earned possession which Korey Smith used constructively.
Two more key components were evident that day. Firstly, Lambert refused to accept a point. Less assured managers with less competent teams would have opted for caution in the last quarter of an hour away from home.
But this season, that has not been the Lambert way. It has not been the Norwich way. And finally, the utterly unparalleled magnificence of the Yellow Army lifted the soul and truly became part of a collective success.
Not for the first or last time, I had not known my work commitments in time to buy tickets from Norwich, but Wycombe, whose tiny ground is normally half-empty, cashed in on the demand from Norwich fans.
As well as giving Norwich all of one end, they ceded part of the main stand and three corporate boxes.The Dennis family and friends took half of one of the boxes and so we had a view of the mass of Norwich fans, instead of being among them, and boy, what a passionate, committed lot they are!
It was not until 77 minutes had passed that several of the Norwich virtues combined decisively. Fraser Foster had just gratefully grabbed the ball when it bounced back to him off a post, but instead of congratulating themselves on survival, City set off once more upfield towards their fans in search of the winner.
Chris Martin’s clever pass sent Hoolahan away on the left to drive the ball in from the goal-line. Of the several possible City recipients, it was Smith who pounced, jubilantly smacking the ball in from a few feet.
Cue pandemonium. The team staged a knees-up around Smith. The Yellow Army went bonkers and Lambert charged along the touchline towards the City end, leaping and punching the air in unrestrained triumph.
Going up, up, up!
It took several hours it took to get out of the car park but we were still buzzing and although I cannot pretend I knew then how the season would end, I did think we’d seen something special.
The Dennis family had witnessed Norwich at Wycombe 16 years previously, in the FA Cup third round – the first game after Mike Walker decamped to Everton.
Walker led Norwich into Europe earlier that season but his five-year plan to build on that success had been scoffed at by chairman Robert Chase, a profoundly unpleasant man whom I once heard make a dismissive comment about Walker’s social background.
In retrospect, that Cup game in 1994 was a watershed moment for Norwich City, the start of a long, sad decline.
The match on the same ground in 2010 was a watershed as well. I hope we never have to go back.
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