Two, classic predatory strikes from Canary skipper Grant Holt ensured it will be a very Merry Christmas in Norfolk this year after the Canaries returned from a snow-bound Ricoh Stadium laden with three more, big away points.
Their 2-1 victory was enough to see Paul Lambert’s charges leap-frog over Coventry City and into fifth spot after officialdom for once did the visitors a favour with the first-half dismissal of Sky Blues midfielder Aron Gunnarsson.
Given the icy conditions, he’s sliding lunge through the on-loan Henri Lansbury might have been deemed worthy of a mere yellow by some; the straight red that followed ensured that the visitors enjoyed a one-man advantage for the next 65 minutes.
It was an advantage that they would make count in decisive fashion three minutes from the end of normal time as Holt smashed home the winner – his 11th of the season; his sixth in the last five games courtesy of that derby hat-trick against Norwich’s oldest of enemies.
It should all start to make amends for his unfair dismissal against Reading where officialdom clearly did the Canaries few favours.
This weekend and a hotly-disputed early penalty shout and Gunnarsson’s 35th minute dismissal ensured that luck was evening itself out over the course of the season – as it invariably does.
“He has been brilliant for me from day one,” said the City chief, afterwards, delighted that City’s travelling army of fans had been given due reward for their decision to brave the elements down the A14 and beyond. “He is an old style number nine and there are not many of those about.”
The shame was he missed that 2-0 home defeat by Portsmouth – City’s lone reverse in their last eight outings. It is the form of genuine play-off contenders; whether Leeds’ defeat of QPR suggests that this season might not develop into the two-horse race some suspected earlier in the autumn is another matter.
For now, the Canaries look solid and confident – as the back-to-back away wins at first Derby County and now Coventry prove.
And in the shape of 29-year-old Holt they have a player playing at near to the peak of his powers; an old-fashioned centre-forward for whom the big, cloggy pitches of January and February will hold few fears.
The only blip came in the shape of Marlon King’s leveller as the much-travelled striker skipped out of Elliott Ward’s reach and drilled a decent shot home. Time for Holt to do another one of his last-gasp hero shows.
“Grant’s confidence at the minute is sky-high,” Lambert confirmed, as he spoke to the club’s official site afterwards.
“He’s a handful – and he’s definitely playing very, very well at the moment.”
The telling point about City’s latest away day success was the fact that Lambert and Co were forced to re-shuffle their pack again to accommodate the suspension of Leon Barnett, the return of Holt from his own, one-match ban and the loss of key midfielder Andrew Crofts through illness.
The fact that the Canaries now appear to have both the depth of squad and breadth of tactical thinking to switch to 4-3-3, find Michael Nelson stepping into Barnett’s shoes and David Fox holding the midfield fort in Crofts’ absence all bodes well for the rest of the season.
Lansbury’s extra 28 days in a City shirt – confirmed late on Friday evening – merely keeps the pot bubbling nicely; warming many a Canary heart in the midst of winter’s icy grip.
“Crofts has been ill for the last few days and Leon Barnett was missing through suspension – and we still have Adam Drury missing,” Lambert reminded everyone afterwards.
“So when you look at that, you’ve got to give the lads credit.”
Yesterday’s result also ensured that the Canaries have still to lose back-to-back games since the Scot arrived at the helm of the Carrow Road club.
It is that remarkable level of ‘bounce-backability’ that is keeping the Canaries firmly in the play-off mix – and why the one-time European Cup winner looks increasingly like one of the brightest and the best of this generation of Football League managers.
As for where this season might all end, Lambert is keeping such thoughts to himself – and to the dressing room.
In public he has merely insisted that safety alone is his No1 priority; hit that magic 50-point mark and then see what the world looks like; platform-built, push on from there.
“I have my own thoughts and the lads know what I think,” he told the Press afterwards.
The spirit that is clearly evident within that Canary dressing room will take the club a long, long way this term; the force remains very much with them.
“I have been in some really good dressing rooms at certain times in my career, but the one here is as good as any.”