City winger Anthony Pilkington challenged anyone to deny him his first goal in Canary colours as Norwich celebrated their first away win in the Premier League for 17 years.
Yesterday’s 2-1 win at the Reebok was City’s first success on their top flight travels since December, 1994, and that 1-0 away win at Crystal Palace.
Fatefully, for all concerned, Norwich failed to win a single away game all season on their last visit to the Premiership – heaping ever more pressure on Nigel Worthington’s men as they travelled to the likes of Selhurst Park and Craven Cottage at the end of the 2004-2005 season.
That pressure is now lifted off Paul Lambert’s men courtesy of those first-half strikes from first new-boy Pilkington in the 37th minute followed by a similar first for Bradley Johnson some five minutes later.
Pilkington’s strike took a roundabout route to goal – David Fox’s inviting corner being met first by Leon Barnett before Steve Morison swept the ball goalward. Standing little more than four yards out, the Canary winger played for the in-off – off both last defender and upright before nestling in the back of the net.
“Is it mine? Yes – definitely!” Pilkington insisted afterwards.
“No-one is going to take that away from me. A few people were saying that it was an ‘OG’, but I think it’s hit the post – not the defender.”
It was due reward both for the team’s overall, first-half performance as they posed all-too many questions for a nervy Bolton back-line and for Pilkington individually after a long, hard summer confined to the treatment room after dislocating his ankle playing for Huddersfield in March.
The 23-year-old was forced to sit out much of City’s pre-season following his reported £1.75 million switch and, even then, found a niggling back injury ruling him out of last weekend’s home defeat by West Bromwich Albion.
This weekend and it was smiles all-round for the athletic left-winger born just up the road from Bolton in Darwen.
“I’ve worked really hard,” he said. “And I’ve been given the chance to come and play for Norwich in the Premier League and I’m going to grab it with both hands – and really kick on now.”
As, ideally, will Norwich who now have a home clash with Steve Bruce’s Sunderland to savour before they head to Old Trafford.
Yesterday’s three points is a big, big result for the Norfolk side – especially given the fact that both QPR and Swansea won convincingly yesterday.
“It was just the overall team performance – everyone sticking together away from home – we had some good spells, played really well and we’re just delighted with the three points. Especially away from home,” Pilkington told BBC Radio, with the Canaries even managing to concede their fifth straight penalty without it – for once – altering the result.
As much as it was a team performance, it was also a big call by the manager team-wise that underpinned City’s first top flight away success for 17 years.
Favouring full-back Russell Martin ahead of Ritchie de Laet at centre-half was just one of six changes that Lambert made from the side that lost 1-0 to West Brom.
Pilkington’s return was simply a case of being available again after that injury, but the decision to rest skipper Grant Holt, rotate Welsh international Andrew Crofts and, of course, to let Messrs Fox and Hoolahan sparkle in the heart of that midfield – these were all big calls by the City chief.
And in the end, the result justified every decision. It will be interesting to see now whether Martin’s appearance at centre-half was just a one-off or whether – in the continuing absence of the likes of Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread – he continues to enjoy the manager’s faith.
For now, however, everyone was just happy to bask in a famous away-day success. Suddenly the top flight of English football looks rather less forbidding than it did seven days ago.
“The victory has been coming,” said Pilkington. “Everyone has seen that we play some really good football and have some really good players, so we’re delighted to get the three points and I’m sure that there’s going to be many more.”