Super Grant Holt once again rode to Norwich’s rescue this afternoon with a 73rd minute winner against Queen’s Park Rangers.
Pegged back at 1-1 by Luke Young’s ice-cold finish following Russell Martin’s 14th minute opener, it was Paul Lambert’s double substitution in the 70th minute that turned the contest back Norwich way and delivered a massive result ahead of that away trip to Manchester City next weekend.
For today’s success leaves the Canaries nine points clear of bottom-of-the-table Blackburn; seven points head of Wigan and Bolton.
More importantly, it keeps momentum, belief and confidence flowing through the veins of players, management and supporters alike. And as for the legend that is club skipper Holt, today was just another chapter in an extraordinary story.
Even from the bench, he continues to steal both headlines and points for the Canaries. And, arguably, they rarely come as big as this afternoon three against Rangers. Even if, in fairness, Steve Morison would walk away with the Man of the Match award for yet another big and compelling shift at the sharp end.
Were these three points bigger than most, was the question to Lambert afterwards.
“I think you asked me that yesterday – do I think this is more important than the Arsenal game and the answer is ‘No!’,” said the City chief, after watching Carrow Road rise as one to greet today’s success. Well, the Yellow And Green bits of it…
“There’s no point in looking at it like that – look at it like that and then there’s no point in playing the top six teams. You might as well give them top six team the points. Every point we can get, you treat it like a prisoner.”
Nor was he taking any credit for the double substitution that delivered that 73rd minute winner as Wes Hoolahan delivered a peach of a teasing cross for Holt to bag his 57th goal in 104 City appearances.
“No – it’s the players that go and do it,” he said. “I’ve just got to trust them that when they go on the field of play that they go and perform and they’ve done that for the last two years. They’ve just been a brilliant, brilliant group.”
Never one to duck the big decisions, Lambert made three of them pre-match.
Out went Kyle Naughton, David Fox and Hoolahan; in came Andrew Surman, Ritchie de Laet and Simeon Jackson; onto Martin’s arm went the skipper’s armband.
It would need kick-off to demonstrate which way the manager was setting up his new-look out-fit; as they lined up, so it was straight 4-4-2; de Laet in at right-back. Interestingly Surman went wide left; Pilkington headed wide right. Morison found himself with someone playing off his shoulder in the form of Jackson.
Whether Neil Warnock had guessed as much is another matter. He had his own changes to make as keeper Paddy Kenny disappeared unannounced. Joey Barton sat out courtesy of five bookings and a one-match ban.
Jackson it was who first to test Radek Cerny in the Rangers with a crisp, eighth-minute volley that flew straight into the keeper’s arms off a Bradley Johnson chest down.
Moments later and Morison almost repeated his feats against Arsenal with Danny Gabbidon playing the role of Per Mertersacker. There was a twist, however. This time he had Jacskon stood alone, unmarked with a tap-in for the opener. Morison opted instead to try and squeeze the ball beneath the advancing Cerny and the chance went a-begging.
The opener wasn’t, however, long forthcoming and it went to, arguably, the man of the moment – Martin.
Last weekend’s hero-then-villain, awarded the skipper’s armband for the game today and, of course, the man who scored the winner against Rangers last season, the 25-year-old found himself perfectly placed to pounce on an ill-cleared 14th minute corner and stab gleefully home from no more than five-yards out.
On 27 minutes, with City firmly on the front foot, Morison would swing a fine, 22-yarder just over. Norwich were nudging their way ever nearer a second.
For Rangers, their best moment arrived almost on the stroke of half-time when Shaun Wright-Phillips’ curling free-kick floated straight through the six-yard box and on beyond the out-stretched toes of Shaun Derry and all with John Ruddy rooted to his line. That was as good it had got for the visitors; Warnock had the more work to do at the interval.
He had done something; Rangers started the brighter only for Jackson and Morison to slowly start to make inroads into that Rs defence.
With almost an hour gone and a tight, chess match unfolding, both managers made changes – Jay Bothroyd was slammed up front for QPR; Naughton replaced de Laet.
It brought immediate dividends – for Rangers. Jamie Mackie was allowed inside, his low drive pinged back off the base of John Ruddy’s right upright straight into the path of Luke Young who, cool as you like, fired the rebound home. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Leon Barnett, Marc Tierney and Surman all lost track of both ball and possession. All were duly punished.
Time for Lambert to play his last two cards as Hoolahan and Holt arrived to lend their touch and weight to proceedings.
It took the two little more than three minutes to turn the game on its head as Holt sneaked in behind a static Derry to bundle a teasing Hoolahan cross home from some four yards out. Moments earlier and Morison’s jinking run and superb, chipped cross to the far post should have seen Holt score – only for Derry to block on the goal-line.
It was Holt’s fourth goal of the season and not the prettiest; few gave a monkeys. It was the points that mattered the more.