There was no rest for either the wicked or the blessed today as the Canaries – ‘fresh’ from that 1-0 home win over league leaders QPR on Saturday – took the long road north to Middlesbrough.
Victory over Neil Warnock’s men provided the perfect start to the New Year and took Norwich’s recent run of form to five wins from their last six games – enough to keep them third in the table; just a point off that second, automatic promotion slot.
“It’s the same for everyone,” said City’s goal-scoring hero Russell Martin afterwards, as he looked forward to today’s trip to the Riverside – Norwich’s second game in 48 hours; it would have been their fourth in nine days but for the Palace postponement.
“We might like a bit more rest than one day, but the games are coming thick and fast but that’s what you want when you’re on a roll like we are at the minute,” said the City right-back, who celebrates his 25th birthday tomorrow.
“We’ve got a bit of momentum and, hopefully, if we go up there and get anywhere near the tempo we started at today and create that again, I think we will be OK.”
That tempo, of course, included Martin’s own tenth minute strike – his third goal of the season tucked away sweetly inside the near post after namesake Chris saw his original drive blocked.
It set up a right thriller of a contest as the Canaries played on the edge for the next 80 minutes – to the delight and fear of the gathered faithful as City gave themselves an ideal platform from which to launch a spring assault on the play-offs. Or better, perhaps.
“It’s a massive achievement, but I think people sometimes need to look at where we were this time last year,” warned Martin.
“I think the fans appreciate what a massive effort it has been – and those inside the club. But I think some people outside the club maybe forget that.
“They see the size of the club and just expect us to be there. But it’s a great effort from the Gaffer and all the players; the squad,” he added, with one telling fact up his sleeve.
“I think today apart from three of the lads [Crofts, Ruddy, Wilbraham], it was the team that played last year and got us out of the league.
“The team spirit is unbelievable and if we carry on going and stick together, you never know what you can achieve. We’ve shown so far that we can more than hold our own and if we carry on… we’ll see where it takes us.”
Saturday’s success demanded a big shift by all concerned; Rangers weren’t about to roll over after that early set-back.
“It was hard work – we probably should have killed the game off a lot earlier,” he admitted, with Rangers keeper Paddy Kenny proving a particular thorn in City’s side with decent saves to deny both Chrissy Martin (twice) and Wes Hoolahan.
“Leaving it at 1-0 makes everyone a little bit nervous, but I think we held up to it really well,” said the former Peterborough skipper, fast proving Mr Consistent in Norwich colours this term.
He is about the one regular fixture in that back four after injury and suspension combined to pair Zak Whitbread alongside Michael Nelson for the first time this season, whilst Adam Drury returned for his first game since the middle of October.
The loss of David Fox ensured that the midfield mopping up duties fell to Andrew Crofts – together all five withstood all that the league leaders could throw at them; albeit even if they were a man short for the last 50 minutes of the contest.
“We knew what they were going to do – especially as they were chasing the game; they pumped long balls forward and Zak [Whitbread] and Nels [Michael Nelson] got their heads on pretty much everything.
“And Crofty [Andrew Crofts] is in front of them to pick up the second balls – it was just a massive team effort.
“Even Wes [Hoolahan]. We all know how good he is going forward, but the work that he put in defensively was absolutely tremendous. It’s a team effort.”
City have now taken four points off Rangers in their two encounters this season; but for a missed penalty at Loftus Road it could have been a full house.
Another reason not to fear anyone in this division, was the question.
“No – exactly,” said Martin. “And I think the three teams that have come up are in the top six or seven now.
“It just shows what you can do if you come up with a positive attitude like the Gaffer’s done.
“We don’t go into any game looking to draw or just to grind out a result. We look to attack every team and come away winning games. We’ve won more than we’ve lost so far and, hopefully, that formula continues.”
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