City boss Paul Lambert tonight paid tribute to a ‘colossal’ set of players as the Canaries drove on to within two points of nPower Championship leaders Queen’s Park Rangers with a 2-1 away win at Sheffield United.
Two, second-half strikes from rising midfield star Andrew Crofts wiped out Ched Evans’ leveller and left the Yellow and Green Army daring to dream the impossible dream as the feelings of 2002 and 2004 swept back through the ranks.
Clearly there is a long, long way to go.
The club have, after all, yet to reach that 50-point safety mark which was the manager’s original aim for City’s first season back in the second flight of English football.
But there is a belief to their game, a belief amongst the supporters and a belief from the manager that he has gathered a special group of players together.
Upon such belief, mountains can be moved; back-to-back promotions can be won.
“The lads have been colossal – they really have,” said Lambert afterwards, as he rained on Micky Adams’ home-coming parade.
It was the new United manager’s first home league game in charge; his script-writer clearly had an off-day as whoever writes the fairy-tale of Lambert’s managerial reign at Carrow Road thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Little wonder that the Canary chief is in no mood to go anywhere else career-wise; why would you? Football rarely gets this good for any one individual; let alone a support, a city and a county as passionate about their football as Norfolk’s finest.
And in Crofts, they are finding themselves a new hero.
His 61st and 80th minute strikes were his fifth and sixth goals of the season.
Get into double figures before the end of the campaign and that’s a sit-up-and-take-notice return from the blossoming 26-year-old.
“I’ve said to him that he’s creating a niche for himself the way that he’s been performing,” Lambert told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“He’s been probably one of the best midfielders in this league – I think,” added the City chief.
The big fear is that Cardiff use their extra financial muscle to bag one of the two automatic spots; the Bluebirds were 3-1 up at the break against Watford today as Craig Bellamy and Michael Chopra breezed past the Hornets.
Should Aaron Ramsey return to his roots on loan from his new employers Arsenal as Arsene Wenger suggested on Friday, Dave Jones’ men will take some stopping as the wind appears to slip from QPR’s sails – now only two points ahead of the chasing pack, albeit with that game in hand.
There wasn’t, admitted Lambert, too much to shout about in the opening 45 minutes; the fun and games only really started after the break.
“In fairness to Sheffield, I thought they were the better team in the first-half,” admitted Lambert, as the Canaries racked up their first double of the season.
Time was when such a feat over a Warnock-led United would have been a major coup; right now and Blades are in a sorry state – anxiously looking over their shoulders at the drop as the Canaries dream ever higher.
“But in the second-half I thought we were right on it and there were two, terrific goals.”
Both came courtesy of David Fox’s set-piece delivery; both eventually found Crofts reacting the quickest deep inside a congested United penalty area.
City’s midfield pair might not always get the headlines amidst Holt this and Hoolahan that – not to mention Russell Martin’s heroics against leaders QPR and more recently Cardiff City – but that Fox-Crofts combination is giving the Norfolk side a real, solid platform in the middle of the park.
Upon such sure foundations, Wesley can strut his stuff – mid-week virus notwithstanding; with such a guard the Canary back four can sleep slightly easier at night.
It still, however, needed a little word in their ears at the break. A little gee up from the Gaffer.
“I said to them that when they’re not on top of their game and they’re away from home, the wheel always turns,” Lambert said, finding ever-willing support from City’s determined away following.
“And in the second-half, they raised their game – and the crowd were, once again, pivotal in us getting back into the game.”
Lambert also paid tribute to the two centre-halves – Leon Barnett and Zak Whitbread, the latter’s return to fitness proving distinctly well-timed.
“I thought him [Barnett] and Zak [Whitbread] were colossal for us,” said Lambert, repeating his favourite word of the day. With good reason.
It could prove to be a colossal result as the final straight looms ever larger.