Orlando Sa’s seventh minute strike looked for all the world as if it would hand Fulham three, huge Premiership points at Carrow Road this afternoon – only for Simeon Jackson’s 94th minute header to prove once again that this Norwich side never know when to quit.
Credit where credit is also due – it was a fabulous cross deep into the danger area from fellow substitute Elliott Bennett that finally caught the Cottagers cold as the Canadian squeezed in ahead of his marker to thump the perfect, far post header home.
Given the way that other results were falling across the country, it was vital that Norwich avoided back-to-back home defeats ahead of Monday’s trip to Queen’s Park Rangers.
The point kept the Norfolk side nudging upwards with belief and confidence still intact; the result seeing City nick back into tenth spot as the end of 2011 loomed.
“I thought we were relentless in the second-half – and that was no more than we deserved,” said City chief Paul Lambert afterwards, still warming to his festive theme of expectations running wild.
“We played in fits and starts in the first-half against a really top side,” he added. “And I think that people underestimate Fulham – the crowd were maybe a bit flat [in the first half] with people just expecting us to win. And, as I said yesterday, I think that’s wrong.”
The early strike didn’t help settle either players or crowd; both stirred back into compelling life after the interval.
“The goal put us on the back-foot,” the manager admitted. “We had a little flurry of corners and a bit of possession without ever really getting that break, but in the second-half I thought the players efforts were extraordinary. They’re the ones that dragged the game up.”
In theory, Lambert will be open for transfer business come the midnight hour. Once again he returned to a familiar theme – that he hasn’t got millions at his disposal; that experienced Premiership campaigners will be out of his reach wages-wise.
He did, however, confirm that he had spoken to Spurs boss Harry Redknapp on Tuesday night with regard to making Kyle Naughton’s deal full-time.
“We ain’t going to have millions and millions to spend,” he repeated. “And when you look at the wages for people, we won’t be able to do it. But the lads need help – there’s no doubt.
“People have said that there’s money there – you wait and see.”
Martin Jol would certainly have done very well to second guess the City team that popped beneath the dressing room door at a little after two o’clock.
As, in fairness, would any Canary supporter as Daniel Ayala came back in from nowhere to partner Zak Whitbread at the heart of that Norwich defence.
Adam Drury’s brief return to the fray proved just that; perhaps his 33-year-old limbs were being saved for Loftus Road on Monday. Either way, Man of the Match Naughton would be handed the left-back gig in his absence; Bradley Johnson got the nod ahead of Andrew Crofts in a flat four midfield while Grant Holt found himself back on the bench as Steve Morison had Wes Hoolahan for deep-lying forward company.
Anthony Pilkington’s bright, 20 minute spell against Spurs earned its reward with a start – the fourth and final change of the day.
Such best-laid plans lasted all of seven minutes before Sa opened the scoring. Mousa Dembele slipped beyond Johnson and fed Sa. As the rebuilt City back four backed off their man, so the Fulham striker took full advantage and picked out the bottom corner from some 18-yards distant. Easy. Too easy.
Naughton needed to hack the ball back off the goal-line and into John Ruddy’s arms as Sa took aim again moments later. It wasn’t proving the best of starts; Lambert’s warnings of a tough afternoon proving all too true.
In fairness, Norwich’s response was, briefly, swift and telling – and almost yielded an early leveller as three, big corners found keeper David Stockdale desperately clawing one effort against the bar before Kerim Frei hacked Morison’s four-yard stab off the goal-line with keeper beaten.
City’s plight could have worsened again just after the half-hour mark as Clint Dempsey saw his header fall back off the Norwich cross-bar as the Canaries struggled to make much of an impression after that initial riposte. As the half-time whistle blew, it was high time for Lambert to work his managerial magic once more. Norwich were somewhat flat; the natives listless.
Little surprise that the break brought a change; Holt replacing David Fox. It took him 20 seconds to make his mark; right in the chest of John Arne Riise. He, at least, knew he was in a game.
And, bit by bit, City started to dig the chances out. Riise blocked a Pilkington drive after Morison had wriggled free; Naughton would drive just over after Holt and Hoolahan combined. Andrew Surman would see one zip past the left upright on the 71st minute mark as Norwich continued to push and probe without much by way of reward.
Substitute Jackson would have Stockdale at full stretch to palm an 81st minute curler wide; Whitbread would deliver a towering header too near to the keeper as Norwich continued to seek that elusive leveller. Holt would head over on 88 minutes from another inviting Bennett cross as width and service returned.
It was fast proving one of them… or was it?