It was a goal fit for any occasion. The fact that it kept the Canaries driving ever nearer to a ticket to the Premiership’s promised land and made the great ‘second striker’ debate all-but redundant merely added to the sweetness of Andrew Crofts’ killer strike at Oakwell this weekend.
It was, of course, his second goal of the game; his seventh and eighth of the season.
Enough to give the Norfolk side a well-deserved 2-0 away win at Barnsley; enough to keep the Canaries right in the very midst of that play-off pack – just a tantalising three points off that second automatic promotion spot.
It also banished memories of Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with struggling Doncaster Rovers and the questions that inevitably followed – that if Grant Holt wasn’t there to score the goals, who else would?
Come the weekend and Crofts delivered the answer; just as Wes Hoolahan has on other weekends before. There are goals across the squad. They are far from being a one-man band.
“I thought the team gave me everything,” said a delighted Paul Lambert afterwards, after ringing a couple of changes on the back of that Rovers’ disappointment.
Andrew Surman was handed a start after his lengthy injury troubles, while Marc Tierney replaced Adam Drury at left-back. It was Tierney’s pin-point cross that found an unmarked Crofts for the opener – the Canary midfielder directing his header down and up again into the roof of the net for a classic attacking midfielder’s strike.
The second, however, was out of a rather higher drawer. Henri Lansbury’s clipped ball into his feet on the left-edge of the Barnsley box was controlled with the outside of right foot; little more than an instant turn later and his left delivered a complete pearler inside the far upright.
It had touch, turn, balance, awareness, technique and finish. It will be a mighty contender for Norwich’s goal of the season this year.
“Marc Tierney has had to wait a wee while because of the way that Adam Drury has been playing,” Lambert told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“But Adam we have to watch a little bit. And with Andrew [Surman] coming in we could push Wes up a little bit, but all over the pitch I thought we were excellent.”
Hoolahan’s switch to a role just off skipper Holt ensured that there was no room for either Aaron Wilbraham or AN Other ‘second striker’. In fairness, with the likes of Hoolahan, Lansbury, Surman and Crofts on the pitch, Norwich are hardly short of attacking threat.
And given the manner in which they have come to adapt to Lambert’s tactical tweaks and turns, so they continue to pose huge problems for opposition teams.
And in Crofts have a player who is fast turning into the complete midfielder. He has the lot in his locker.
“He’s just getting better,” said Lambert afterwards.
“He’s been first class in everything we ask him to do and as a lad, he’s a top class professional too. And his second goal was absolutely top drawer.”
A full 90-minutes for Surman was another of the day’s big plusses. His return to the fold allows Lambert to deploy his full range of attacking creatives – as well as keeping his side of the bargain with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger by giving Master Lansbury games on a regular basis.
Balance and quality on the ball were the two attributes that Lambert saw with Surman’s welcome return and with bottom of the table Preston North End next up at Carrow Road, the Norfolk side look perfectly poised to keep themselves nicely tucked in at the very shoulders of that lead pack.
QPR might be five points distant at the top – one hand already on an automatic promotion place given Neil Warnock’s experience of seeing such title challenges through. But it is still all up for grabs with regard to that second automatic spot.
Anything can – and probably will – happen between now and the end of the season.
Lambert had one final word for his two centre-halves; a clean sheet is not to be sniffed at right now – again Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread appear to be making light of Leon Barnett’s absence. And, in goal, John Ruddy continues to play a part with an instinctive tip over the bar in the game’s opening exchanges.
“I thought the two centre-halves were excellent and the save from John Ruddy was world class,” said Lambert.
For the travelling Norwich faithful, there’s at least another week to dream the impossible dream. Back-to-back promotions still very much in the file marked: ‘Do-able…’
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