Simeon Jackson’s fourth goal of the season a minute before the break proved more than enough to get the Canaries back to winning ways in front of the largest home crowd of the season this afternoon as a down-at-heel Middlesbrough were comfortably despatched 1-0.
It was a classic, 4-4-2 performance after Canary chief Paul Lambert decided that maybe a diamond wasn’t always going to be his best friend.
Back to the bench went Wes Hoolahan and with Anthony McNamee offering the alternative supply line from wide on the right, so the Canaries delivered two, solid banks of four for Boro to break down once Jackson had nicked them ahead off a McNamee cross.
In the event, the visitors barely troubled a Norwich defence in which the returning Elliott Ward was a rock; there was one, big difference to events on Tuesday night and that home defeat by a similarly struggling Palace outfit.
“Elliott [Ward] was a massive loss for us and I thought that was Russell Martin’s best game for us,” said Lambert, delighted in the way that his side defended that slender lead – in contrast to the two, sloppy set-piece goals that cost them dear against the Eagles.
Fresh legs and a new shape earned its reward.
“We freshened it up a little bit,” said Lambert, as the Canaries deepened their grip on those play-off places.
“We gave Korey [Smith] a break; we gave Wes [Hoolahan] a break; they’d played every game for us and we need everbody,” said the City boss. His side have yet to lose back-to-back games since his arrival. Hence why they are where they are.
“When you get beat you’ve got to try your best to win the next one and the lads have responded terrifically again,” added Lambert, still looking over his shoulder. “And that’s another three points; another three points to keeping us safe.”
With Wesley relegated to the bench as Lambert looked to shake things up on the back of Tuesday’s defeat, City went into battle this weekend with a robust-looking midfield pairing of Andrew Crofts and David Fox.
The spark, one presumed, would have to come from way out on the right where McNamee made a rare start in an equally rare 4-4-2 formation.
In what proved to be a tight opening spell, City’s best chance fell to the returning Ward who found the ball falling at his feet some 15 yards out following a half-cleared corner.
What followed was a classic centre-half’s volley; a horrible shank to the left that had ‘Out Of Bounds’ written large all over it.
Otherwise, it was all usual, Championship fare – tons of muscular endeavour and thumping big diagonals seeking out heads and space at either end of the pitch. An afternoon of graft as opposed to Hoolahan-like craft.
Jackson offered the best of City’s attacking moments; right up until the 25th minute when McNamee’s low cross was half-cleared to Crofts’ feet. His low drive beat Jason Steele only to ping back off the base of the keeper’s right-hand upright and back into his grateful arms.
Three minutes later and Russell Martin would drill a Steve Smith cross back through the Boro six-yard-box without a Canary boot adding the final touch. Advantage, for now, lay with the home side.
At the other end, Ward proved his worth with a fabulous diving block to thwart a Leroy Lita drive. Lambert’s switch to a flat four finally got its reward a minute before the break.
McNamee was, indeed, the spark; his deep cross from the right caught Boro horribly flat. As they appealed in vain for offside, Holt pulled the ball back from just in front of the far upright to enable Jackson to tap home into an empty net from some six-yards out. Simple – and highly effective.
As was City’s defending after the break; two, simple banks of four with Crofts and Fox at its heart. If one didn’t dig the ball off you, the other would.
Boro’ huffed and puffed but John Ruddy barely had a touch of the ball. Kris Boyd and Lita looked good on paper; they barely ruffled a feather.
The visitors got just one, proper glimpse of Ruddy’s goal before the end; a minute into injury time only for substitute Scott McDonald to scuff a nasty, little shot well wide from little more than ten yards out.
And that was it.
Norwich were on the up, up, up; managerless Boro’ had that air about them. Steve Gibson’s fortunes are in danger of going down football’s all-too familiar toilet.