Canadian striker Simeon Jackson wrote himself into Canary legend this afternoon as the Canaries staged – even by their lofty standards – the mother of all late, late shows to beat Derby County 3-2 and propel themselves ever nearer the Premiership.
It was built on a Jackson hat-trick – his second of the season – the third of which came a full five minutes into injury time with even the staunchest of Canary supporter believing that this time the chance had gone; two, huge promotion points were going AWOL.
Everyone should know better. Henri Lansbury’s desperate corner escaped everyone; Russell Martin fired the ball back towards the far corner where Alberto Bueno waited to clear off the line – and pinged the ball back into an empty net off Jackson’s mid-riff.
Cue the wildest of celebrations Carrow Road has seen in many a year as the City striker’s eighth goal in six games put the Norfolk side within touching distance of that £60 million Premiership prize.
It was, said City boss Paul Lambert, almost beyond belief the way this season has unfolded.
“I can’t describe what the players have given me – they’ve been brilliant,” said the Canary chief, with the Canaries clinging onto that prized second spot after Cardiff nicked their own, vital away win at a now-relegated Preston North End.
Reading’s shock defeat to Sheffield United leaves City and Cardiff to slug it out right to the line.
“We just couldn’t shake them,” he added, as the Rams twice levelled and were just seconds away from a big result before Norwich’s 12th goal in stoppage time rocked Carrow Road to its foundations.
“But that’s a massive win for us. And the position that we’re in, we’ve got to try and win the game. There’s still two games to go, but what I’m not going to do is sit here and be disappointed if we end up the play-offs,” said Lambert.
“Regardless of what happens, we have had an absolutely incredible season.”
From the off, the atmosphere was all that could have been expected on the back of a 5-1 away win against the neighbours.
Bright, bubbly and full of expectation, the fact that Lambert was able to name an unchanged line-up at this stage of the season merely offered yet further proof that this team was flying confidence-wise.
Early momentum wasn’t helped by a second-minute clash of heads between the two Rams’ centre-halves which left Daniel Ayala, in particular, seeing stars.
With Robbie Savage clearly detailed to keep a wary eye on Wes Hoolahan, it was 15 minutes before the home side forced Brad Jones into his first real save of the afternoon – a sharp, palm-away by his left ankle following a low cross from Marc Tierney and a stooping header from Andrew Crofts.
And for the next 20 minutes or so that was pretty much it as a bitty game began to wilt and drift in the early summer sun. City were the better side, but chances were few and far between.
As were decisions. One offside, one ‘push’ and a clear hand-ball from the much-loved Savage niggled with home crowd and manager alike.
In the end it took 45 minutes for the break to come. Tierney latched onto a quick throw-in from Grant Holt; his chipped cross from the by-line found Jackson leaping athletically on the edge of the six-yard box to head home his sixth goal in as many games.
Moments later and the whistle blew for half-time. Well-drilled and well-disciplined as ever, the Canaries just needed that first break to get their noses in front. And Jackson duly delivered bang on cue.
And that should have been that. Should.
In the 54th minute Steve Davies was handed a free header some ten yards out from a Bueno cross. Soft hardly does it justice as Norwich went to sleep for one, fateful moment.
Norwich’s composure wasn’t helped by an injury to Zak Whitbread and a shambles of a substitution as the officials once again dipped into Laurel And Hardy mode.
Fortunately, Jackson hadn’t finished for the day as he produced a stunning 22-yard-lob off a Holt knock-back to leave Jones wholly rooted to the spot and the Canary faithful out of their seats. It was some moment to deliver a finish of that delicacy.
Not that Derby were done. Bueno picked his spot in the bottom corner on 63 minutes and threw a big gauntlet back at City’s feet. Could they find a third? It needed a stunning Jones save from a huge Elliott Ward header in the 67th minute to deny the Canaries.
As ever, of course, the Fat Lady had yet to sing. By the end and Lambert had played all his big attacking cards; Henri Lansbury and Dani Pacheco had joined Holt, Hoolahan and Jackson is seeking out that crucial winner.
With the referee playing the full five minutes of added-on time, so the ball pinged one last time through that Rams box. History was waiting to be written and Jackson duly delivered the required punchline to send the Canary faithful into raptures.