Yet another late, late show from Paul Lambert’s high-flying Canaries secured yet another three points at Carrow Road this evening – Henri Lansbury’s winner arriving in the fourth minute of added-on time.
It was enough to give Norwich a 2-1 win over visitors Millwall and merely cemented Norwich’s place in that second automatic promotion spot as Cardiff City were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Reading.
Whatever it cost to arrange that young man’s loan – and there’s no such thing as a ‘free’ loan in the Championship these days – the Gunners starlet repaid with interest with a winner that could prove priceless as the rest of the season unfolds.
Momentum is key; keep belief billowing in your sails and this promotion lark can become plain sailing.
It also does wonders for dressing room spirit with Canary keeper John Ruddy running the length of the pitch to join the celebrations.
That spirit needs bottling; it can work minor miracles come the final stretch for the finishing line.
The Bluebirds slipped back down to fifth on tonight’s results with Swansea – 2-0 winners at Bristol City – now the ones to watch as they slipped into third spot; a point off the Canaries.
But for Lansbury’s last-gasp winner, the Canaries would be right in the midst of that chasing pack; victory, however, keeps them flying high; foot firmly on the gas points-wise even if – by common consent – the performance wasn’t one for the purist.
Few will care.
At this stage of the season, results are everything. History will merely record the fact that Norwich won 2-1. How they won 2-1 is by-the-by.
“We played some good stuff at times, at other times we were a bit off the pace,” admitted Lambert afterwards.
“But the important thing is that we stuck at it – and got the win.”
Lions boss Kenny Jackett didn’t take defeat well. Few managers like to be on the wrong end of an injury-time winner and the Lions chief was no exception. Quizzed about the first goal afterwards, he took a leaf straight out of Neil Warnock’s book and had a right pop at Canary skipper Grant Holt.
“I think Grant Holt gets more free-kicks than anybody I’ve ever seen – particularly at home,” said Jackett, after the returning Elliott Ward made the most of Lansbury’s free-kick against the woodwork by reacting first to the rebound and slamming the ball home for a 77th minute leveller.
Jackett, however, felt the chance was there for the Lions to have ended the contest long before Norwich’s late revival.
“Our forwards should have had more belief –if they had gone on and got the second that would really have killed it off,” he lamented, after Theo Robinson’s strike had given them a sniff of victory.
Not for the first time, however, Norwich had something left in the locker; most notably, the kind of class that Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice have long seen in Master Lansbury as he motored onto Holt’s late through-ball and tucked away the final chance of the night.
“It hurts to lose and in those circumstances it’s pretty tough. Tough,” added Jackett afterwards.
For the Canaries, however, it was yet another sweet, sweet moment.
In a season of such sweet moments, there has to be a rhyme and reason to it.
It has got beyond a coincidence the number of times that Norwich steal a victory from the jaws of a likely draw. Superior fitness, sheer belief or a manager with the Midas touch – all must play a part in why the Canaries can dig out big results when – on occasion – the performance doesn’t quite warrant it.
The other big point of tonight’s game was the way in which Lambert continues to broaden his church to ensure it remains very much a squad achievement.
In came Simeon Jackson for Chrissy Martin; back came Simon Lappin for Wes Hoolahan; in came Ward for Zak Whitbread – all three of whom were there on the bench.
Adam Drury was the only enforced change as Marc Tierney made his first Canary start at left-back.
The point being, of course, that Lambert’s honed down squad – now, of course, bereft of Michael Nelson following his exit to Scunthorpe United yesterday – are all in this together; the squad is proving bigger than the team; the team, in turn, is proving bigger than any one individual.
And that’s clever, clever management.
And that’s what can get you promoted.