A 90th minute strike from Russell Martin gave the Canaries a richly-deserved share of the spoils this afternoon in an equally richly-entertaining clash with second-placed rivals Cardiff City.
Jon Parkin’s peach of a seventh minute strike looked to be all set to inflict the first back-to-back defeats of Paul Lambert’s reign on the hosts as the Norfolk side threw themselves into the contest with verve and vigour; for the next 82-odd minutes they would prod, and poke. Probe, and push.
They would hit the bar, see one loud penalty appear waved away and have a ‘goal’ chalked off for offside – whilst, as ever, being roared ever on by the home faithful.
It looked for all the world that there would be no knight in shining white armour to stage a late, late rescue.
The Bluebirds would cling on to three, big points in the race for that second automatic promotion spot.
But, no. In the last minute of normal time, Adam Drury’s low cross would find substitute Simon Lappin scuffing a shot wide of the target – only to where Martin lurked and his tight, angled shot up and in off the Bluebirds bar once again saw the Canaries nick a big result out of the jaws of a potential big defeat.
“Was justice done in the end? Very much so,” said City boss Lambert afterward, with a result that keeps Norwich fourth and bang in the pack.
“I thought we were excellent pretty much from the off – and against a really, really good side,” he added.
It was, someone said, the eighth time that Norwich had nicked something in injury time.
“The crowd were incredible – I don’t think anyone ever leaves here,” said Lambert, sharing the credit with the usual suspects, the players and the supporters.
The cast and the stage were, certainly, all set ahead of kick-off.
Locked in second, both sides arrived at Carrow Road with stories to tell; Cardiff with the returning Bellamy fresh from his latest brush with the long arm of the law; Norwich with Gunners starlet Henri Lansbury installed at the tip of that famed midfield diamond for what – in theory – was down as his last game in a City shirt.
Would the England Under-21 star go out with a bang or a whimper? Had he one, last pass of Ipswich-esque proportions in him before he returned to North London?
Afterwards Lambert revealed that the question had been asked of Arsene Wenger.
“We’d like to keep him [Lansbury] until the end of the season,” said the City chief.
“The lad himself is keen to stay and it’s just up to the top man himself now to decide.”
As the game opened, so it was the visitors who took the early credit possession-wise; slung out wide on the left, everything tended towards Bellamy’s feet; Martin (R) was all set for a busy afternoon as the one-time Canary Academy product looked to put a difficult week behind him.
In the event, however, it was the strapping figure of Parkin who stole Bellamy’s thunder with a glorious, outside-of-the-boot strike from some 22-yards off a Michael Chopra knock-down.
It arced beautifully beyond a startled John Ruddy and on inside his right upright. Not for the first time this season, the Canaries would have to earn their points the hard way as the Bluebirds drove convincingly into that seventh-minute lead.
The Canaries, in fairness, responded in the best traditions of a Lambert side.
Wes Hoolahan found himself some space; David Fox drilled a glorious 30-yarder that rattled the Cardiff bar as Norwich began to test Cardiff’s resolve – an 18th minute header from Andrew Crofts seeing Tom Heaton stretch off to his right to save.
Holt’s recent reputation probably did him few favours moments later as Kevin McNaughton clipped the Canary skipper’s trailing heel after a Chris Martin flick opened up the Cardiff defence.
Waved away, a lurking Hoolahan could only drill a tame shot into a relieved Heaton’s arms.
On the touchline Lambert and Ian Culverhouse let rip at the fourth official; some you get, some you don’t – today Norwich didn’t.
On the half hour mark, Holt had the ball in off a Martin (C) rebound; two yards offside on the replay, but the pressure continued to mount.
The game, at least, was fully living up to its billing as Lambert made his upset known to referee Stroud at the interval.
First chance of the second period fell to Martin; the one you don’t always to assume to be lurking by the back stick. But there was full-back Russell as his opposite number Drury drilled a pin-point cross through the Cardiff box; alas, the header was less than pin-point as it flew a foot wide of the post.
The two would, of course, get re-acquainted before the afternoon was out.
But it kept the mood bright, bubbling – and demanding of a leveller.
Chris Martin and Crofts almost delivered on the hour-mark, only for two blue shirts to throw themselves in front of the latter’s effort.
Three minutes later and it needed a fine, spreading save at the feet of Chopra to keep Norwich in the contest. Knife and edge, sprang to mind. As did blue and wall when it came to the Cardiff box.
It wasn’t to be Lansbury’s day. He made way for Aaron Wilbraham in the 72nd minute as Lambert sought to prise Cardiff open by more direct means.
It was, in short, turning out to be one of them; City players would check when they should have gambled; a pass too many would break down on the edge of the Cardiff box.
Nothing quite dropped. Well, not for the first 89 minutes, anyway…