City boss Paul Lambert tonight hailed a ‘massive’ point in his side’s quest for back-to-back promotions following today’s 1-1 draw at Hull City.
Former England international Nick Barmy denied the Canaries all three points with a second-half strike to wipe out Zak Whitbread’s opener.
But with both Leeds United and Nottingham Forest again slipping up and Cardiff being held to a thrilling 3-3 draw at an improving Millwall, City’s latest away-day point was enough to keep them in that second, automatic promotion slot – albeit now only a point ahead of Swansea City, 3-2 winners over Billy Davies’ stuttering Forest outfit.
With an international break now looming, the Canaries can now rest and regroup for a full fortnight knowing that a second promotion in as many seasons remains firmly in their own hands with just eight games left of yet another remarkable season for the Norfolk side.
Given that Norwich are now ten points clear of Reading back in seventh spot with just 24 left up for grabs, everything would suggest that City’s season will last at least another fortnight.
It would now take a collapse of unforeseen severity to deny the Canaries a place in the play-offs.
As much as the City chief hates to raise the bar of expectation among the likes of today’s 2,700 strong travelling Yellow and Green Army, a top six finish is the minimum many will now be expecting given the magnificent run of form the club have enjoyed of late.
“That’s a massive point for us – there’s no doubt about it,” said Lambert afterwards.
The fact that the Canaries have lost just once in their last 17 nPower Championship outings testament to the level of consistency and confidence the Scotsman has instilled in his squad.
Their only blemish this spring has been that 2-1 away defeat at Burnley.
Otherwise City have kept grinding out point after three points after point – an ability lost on the likes of a Forest who have now won just the once in their last ten games.
Lambert admitted that the game had been rather more open than he might have wished for as the Tigers sniffed victory following Barmby’s 73rd minute leveller.
But in the end, City held their nerve and held on to that prized second slot after Whitbread had powerfully headed home a David Fox free-kick for his first-ever goal in a Canary shirt.
“This is a difficult place to come,” Lambert told BBC Radio Norfolk. “A lot of those Hull lads played in the Premiership and Nigel [Pearson] has bought very well.
“But again I thought we were very resolute and I was absolutely delighted with the lads.”
Once again, it was a result built upon the defensive resolution of his centre-half pairing of Whitbread and Elliott Ward; the fact that the American chose today to grab his first goal for the club was, said Lambert, due reward for a succession of ‘colossal’ performances.
“I though he [Whitbread] and Elliott Ward in the centre of the pitch were in sensational form but so were the whole team – particularly after a game on Monday night.
“And as I’ve said before if you can come away from home and pick up points then you are going to be there or thereabouts.”
The game wasn’t without moments of high drama and controversy.
Russell Martin found himself at the centre of a ‘stone-waller’ penalty appeal after the break, while Canary keeper John Ruddy once again played his part in prising an invaluable point out of a trip to the KC with big saves at big moments in the contest.
The fact that the Canaries go into the international break in second was, said Lambert, “unbelievable”.
What City need now was for Lady Luck to smile during the course of those final eight games of the season.
“We’re playing very, very well at the minute and nobody envisaged us doing what we’re doing. And you have got to give the lads every credit for what they are doing.”
Once again, City went into battle without a recognised second striker as Aaron Wilbraham failed to shrug off that back injury.
But with Wes Hoolahan shouldering that role off skipper Grant Holt, the Canaries still offered enough in either penalty area to return home with a point.
The strength and spirit of Lambert’s squad being evident in the return of Simon Lappin to first team action following his appendix fright as he replaced a tiring Andrew Surman for the final half-hour.