Club skipper Grant Holt once again proved the hero of the hour with an ice-cool, 94th minute penalty to prise the most unlikely of points out of this afternoon’s home clash with Blackburn Rovers.
For Norwich were going nowhere when Christopher Samba put Rovers 3-1 ahead on the 64th minute. A little flat and by their own high standards slightly off colour, it looked a long way back for the Canaries against the Premiership’s strugglers.
Cometh the hour, however, and cometh both the man – and the huge slice of luck City needed en route to this afternoon’s last-gasp 3-3 draw.
First Bradley Johnson’s hopeful strike took a big, looping deflection to deliver the second, before deep into injury time Steven Nzonzi was ruled to have handled as Holt and Steve Morison pressed at the far post.
It was a spot-kick of immense significance; miss and spirits might slump on the back of an unpredicted home defeat; score and Norwich would fly on again – albeit only on the back of a 3-3 draw. For watching Rovers boss Steve Kean his own job prospects rested on Holt’s nerves.
The skipper had none. His penalty was hit hard and true away to Paul Robinson’s right and Norwich had dug a big, big result out of a pretty average performance. The sign, they say, of a very good side.
“Never give up – and it’s amazing what that can do for you,” said City boss Paul Lambert afterwards.
“Blackburn are a very good side, but we have a great desire to try and win games,” added the City, who saluted both “a wonder goal” from Morison and a nerveless penalty strike from club skipper Holt.
Competition for that particular place has rarely been as intense and both Lambert and City are reaping the benefit.
“It doesn’t matter how many games you’ve played or how many years you have been playing football,” said Lambert. “But as soon as you see the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes in that last second, it doesn’t matter who you are – the nerves play a huge part.
“And the penalty is right in the side-netting. And any other place, I think that goalkeeper would have saved it.”
The size of the Premiership task that continues to face the Norfolk side, week in, week out, was personified in the shape of Rovers skipper Samba who was a unit and a half at the heart of that Blackburn defence.
Less than 30 seconds in and Morison was offering Wes Hoolahan the chance to slide his way up that inside left channel – and all with Samba for company. It was a boy running up against a brick wall of a man.
In fairness to Rovers, they didn’t open the game looking like the team propping up the Premier League. Yakubu was a right, if wasteful handful; Mauro Formica blazed a foot over from 22 yards distant.
By way of reply Blackburn-born Anthony Pilkington drilled a low cross through the six-yard box that Morison scooped high and over.
David Fox produced the shot of the first half; low, controlled and drilled to Paul Robinson’s right, it demanded a fine, 15th minute one-handed save off the ex-England keeper.
Thereafter it became all a bit tight and muscular; Elliott Bennett having the clearest chance as he side-netted a chance following a smartly-taken free-kick and a sharp combination between Pilkington and Morison that wholly undid the Blackburn right.
Again, Rovers would respond; this time via a 39th minute free-kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen that John Ruddy collected – eventually – right beneath his bar.
Seconds before the interval and the whole complexion of the game changed. Junior Hoilett worked his way right across the length of the City box with Kyle Naughton snapping at his heels. Not hard enough, alas, as the Rovers winger produced a stunning, 20-yard effort that whipped into the far corner way beyond a helpless Ruddy.
It would pose both team and manager big questions at the half-time break; not least whether Morison needed extra support up top. And, of course, whether Holt would be asked to repeat his Anfield heroics.
Not yet was the answer as Morison picked up the gauntlet that lies between the two central strikers and delivered a superb 53rd minute leveller. Hoolahan’s ball in towards Leon Barnett fell back to the City striker; first touch dropped it down, second touch pinged it in from 20-yards off the underside of the bar.
It was a trick someone would need to repeat again as Yakubu restored Blackburn’s lead ten minutes later. It was all too easy as the Rovers hitman slipped in behind Marc Tierney and drilled a low shot inside John Ruddy’s near post.
Worse was to follow a minute later. Pedersen’s free-kick was allowed to bounce through the City six-yard box and on towards the far post where Samba awaited to nod an even softer goal home.
It was, in fairness, all Norwich deserved. Having levelled and taken one step forward, they promptly took two steps back and went right off the boil. And were duly punished.
The arrival of Holt sparked up proceedings, but City were still in dire need of a break. It arrived nine minutes from the end. Johnson’s hopeful strike flicked up off Jason Lowe’s trailing heel and looped home over a stranded Robinson.
Now it was game on again. And, boy, was there a nasty sting in the tail for the travelling Rovers support…
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