City’s drive up the nPower Championship table powered on again this afternoon as skipper Grant Holt delivered the latest, last-gasp winner to send Carrow Road into raptures.
This one arrived in the 94th minute – much like Henri Lansbury’s in the home game before – and provided yet further evidence that this group of Canary players never know when to give up.
It had the manager out on the pitch at the final whistle saluting both the supporters and players alike for yet another late, late show.
It was, in fairness, all that City deserved for their second-half pressure – particularly once the Royals were reduced to ten men following the early exit of Jem Karacen.
And try as they might, it really looked as if this wasn’t to be their afternoon.
Wes Hoolahan blazed over on 84 minutes; Holt would see Adam Federici deny him when clean through on the 90th minute; the returning Andrew Surman would clip a beauty onto the top of the bar.
But as the game entered its fourth and final minute of added on time so it was Surman’s sweet back heel that undid Reading. It set up Andrew Crofts to whip the ball across the face of the Royals goal and on into the path of Holt who squeezed his 14th goal of the season home at the far post.
Once again, the Press Box moaned in unison – it was time to re-write their copy; Sunday’s headlines had changed again.
There were two downsides. One was a hamstring injury to Leon Barnett; one that had a few weeks written all over it. The other was, potentially, more serious after an object was thrown from the home end and hit assistant referee Adrian Sannerude.
The matter is now in the hands of the police after the Lowestoft official was caught by an object to the side of his face.
That will, clearly, feature in the referee’s report to the football authorities. The shame was it took a little of the gloss off another great footballing occasion.
“I’ve just got a great belief that the lads have got the spirit to go to the final whistle,” said City boss Paul Lambert, after the Canaries pulled out their eighth stoppage time strike of an increasingly extraordinary season.
“It’s definitely not luck – I think it comes from them individually and collectively. And that spirit can take you a long, long way,” said Lambert, as he explained his side’s latest last minute winner.
The fact that it was Holt on the end of Croft’s ball added to the sweetness of the moment.
“Grant deserved the goal and sometimes when you see the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes it’s not as easy as some people think.
“It’s easy to shy away from it if you’ve missed a few, but Grant is great in getting in front of people and it’s a vital goal. And Grant has been brought up the old way – he’s an old fashioned centre-forward and he doesn’t given up.”
Pre-match and the biggest round of applause went to full-back Russell Martin; newly-crowned as January’s Anglian Home Improvements Player of the Month.
The former Posh skipper has, in fairness, proved something of a star turn of late with his big, big goals against both QPR and Cardiff.
As welcome as such strikes were, one or two had begun to wonder whether the lack of regular, goal-scoring foil for skipper Holt might not be the last chink in Lambert’s armour as he opted to give Chrissy Martin another run-out ahead of Simeon Jackson.
Neither have quite hit the goal-scoring heights that might have been expected; the big goals have come from either Holt or elsewhere in the side.
In fairness to Martin, he was the pick of the early bunch – but once again failed to earn his due reward goal-wise.
A decent drive on 13 minutes forced Royals keeper Federici into a low, diving save to his left; five minutes earlier and needed a Harte block to take the sting out of another Martin drive off a Russell Martin run and cross.
No matter. On 16 minutes Holt’s far post header fell to Hoolahan who made a monkey out of Harte tight on the touchline before pushing the ball into all the space Henri Lansbury ever needed to calmly tuck home.
It could have been all over four minutes later as Chrissy Martin’s dummy set Holt driving through the inside right channel only to blaze just over as Federici dived off to his right.
City’s lead lasted little more than ten minutes as Shane Long clipped a side-footer home on 26 minutes. Jimmy Kebe got by far the better of Elliott Ward; he angled on and alone into the City box before offering Long the simplest of near-post tuck-ins ahead of Barnett.
Not one for City’s defensive scrap-book; Ward should have taken out both ball and player; Barnett shouldn’t have lost that half-a-yard on Long. Too easy – as Lambert would, no doubt, point out at the break.
Holt, once again, demonstrated his ability to prise a decent effort out of the most unhelpful of crosses when he side-footed a Lansbury cross to Federici’s right in the 36th minute; it needed a scrambled, one-handed save to deny the Canary skipper his second goal of the week.
That would arrive; he just had another hour to wait.
Kebe was the big thorn in Norwich’s side. The Mali-born winger had the legs on everyone; keep the ball away from him would be another half-time instruction.
City had reason to thank officialdom straight from the re-start as Jay Tabb fell in the Canary box with a David Fox hand looking suspiciously full of a Reading shirt; perhaps such decisions do indeed even themselves out over the course of a season.
It was the kind of tight-rope that the contest walked; along such fine lines are play-off campaigns won and lost.
With an hour gone and Lambert turned to a fit-again Surman in a bid to find that difference. Lansbury gave way; his work done for the day.
Steve Mathieson’s was only just beginning when Karacen piled through Fox with his leading foot high, open and with every stud showing.
The Turk was not long for this world as a red card followed a bout of push and shove.
In the midst of such mayhem, Surman would have the wit and the ability to stroke a fine, 20-yard shot onto the top of the Royals’ bar.
Crofts would spring free in the 75th minute; Federici would save with his feet. In came the ball again for a Hoolahan volley only for the Reading No1 to push the ball around the base of his post.
The drama wasn’t over – not by any stretch of the imagination.