City boss Paul Lambert saluted the efforts of Canary striker Steve Morison in the wake of Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat by Arsenal.
For while Robin van Persie’s goal-scoring feats stole all the headlines as the Dutchman made it ten strikes in his last five Premiership outings with his weekend double, Morison’s 16th minute strike made it three-in-three for the summer signing.
He may be no van Persie – and right now few players are – but the 28-year-old is currently putting in some big shifts for both club and country. Particularly given the fact that for both Norwich and Wales, he is all-too often expected to plough a lone furrow up top.
“I think he [Morison] is playing at the top of his game at the minute,” said the Canary boss, after watching the former Millwall hitman bag a classic, muscular centre-forward’s strike against the Gunners.
He certainly made Per Mertersacker’s life a misery as he latched onto Marc Tierney’s awkward ball into the box and wouldn’t settle for second best as the two tussled for the ball.
With Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington sat deep off him in that new-look Canary formation, Morison’s determination was much in demand; it can be a thankless task running into either channel in the hope that a fellow, friendly shirt catches up with you.
As Lambert was the first to admit, it’s not the easiest of assignments – particularly against the bigger guns of the Premiership.
“I think he’s leading the line terrifically well for us,” said the Scot, who opted to drop Grant Holt back to the bench after pairing the two together for that trip to Aston Villa.
“That role is a tough one to play – the lone striker. But I think he’s playing very well.”
Chances from open play proved to be few and far between after the break – the best falling to Pilkington as he moved neatly into that near post area to meet substitute Elliott Bennett’s inviting cross.
Alas, his touch was just too fine on the ball as it barely deviated on its course through the Gunners six-yard box.
“That was the one that we probably had to score,” admitted Lambert, as the Canaries looked to restore their early advantage following van Persie’s opener.
That chance, of course, came and went. At the other end, however, van Persie made no mistake after Russell Martin’s rare rush of blood to the head had left the back door banging wide open.
“At the level of football we’re at, in both boxes you have to be clinical,” said Lambert.
“If you’re not, then it can come back and hurt you.”
The Pilkington chance came, of course, after a switch in personnel at the break – David Fox disappearing to be replaced by the natural width that Bennett offers.
Lambert admitted it was a straight-forward tactical switch.
“I just thought we had to put Arsenal under more pressure than we had been doing in the first-half – you’ve just got to make the decisions that you think are right,” he said, his switch almost paying near immediate dividends.
The saving grace, for Lambert, was the fact that Arsenal had to work till the 90th minute for the points. Holt’s late arrival inevitably led to the odd, set-piece chance. Had Pilkington found the kind of free-kick finish he delivered at Villa Park and then it could have been a different story.
“Against every big team we’ve played against, we’ve always had a foothold in the game,” said Lambert. Norwich weren’t cut to ribbons; weren’t over-run or over-awed. Just in the likes of van Persie and Theo Walcott they ran straight into a double act at the top of their game.
As were Darren Bent and Gabby Agbonlahor a fortnight before.
“We’ve never been out of it,” said the City. “There may come a day when you find yourself four or five-nil down, but we’ve always had a foothold in the game – that’s the pleasing thing. We’re up against a really top side, but the lads never disgraced themselves.”