The Canaries tonight found themselves with a new hero on their hands as teenage keeper Jed Steer helped steer City into virtually unknown waters in the shape of the FA Cup fifth round draw.
Goals from club skipper Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson five minutes from the end of normal time were enough to condemn West Bromwich Albion to their second 2-1 home defeat in a fortnight as the Norfolk club made only their fourth appearance at this stage of the competition in the last 20 years.
City’s last appearance in the fifth round in 2007 produced a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea. But with the ‘Big Guns’ falling early this season – Manchester United joining neighbours City in departing the competition today – so opportunity may yet knock for Norwich to make decent progress this spring.
Particularly given the confidence and the belief now flowing through the dressing room as 19-year-old Steer suggested he may well have what it takes after City boss Paul Lambert opted to rest John Ruddy and – in the absence of the injured Declan Rudd – gave the youngster the chance to impress.
That he duly did. A point-blank reaction stop onto the bar from Jerome Thomas was the pick of the bunch as the City Academy product merely confirmed what has been long rumoured – that the Canaries have another great goalkeeping prospect on their hands.
Before the end and Steer would save City again from both Shane Long and Joe Mattock – sparing his manager what he feared most, a replay on the back of a 2-2 draw. In the end, however, Jackson’s 85th minute strike proved decisive and sent Norwich’s 3,200-strong travelling support back down the A14 in gleeful mood.
“I thought his saves were world-class,” Lambert told Sky Sports afterwards.
A loan spell at Yeovil earlier this season had clearly been of benefit as the teenager refused to allow either the occasion or the crowd get to him. That has always been the word around Colney – that Steer’s level-headedness could take him a long, long way in the game.
“It is only one game,” stressed Lambert afterwards. “But he has great temperament and great enthusiasm for the game, but his handling was brilliant and his saves were exceptional.”
With Rudd likely to be sidelined for a couple of months with the injury he picked up in training, Steer looks to have a place on the bench to himself; equally it may persuade Lambert that he doesn’t need to dip his toe back in the transfer market this month to secure the services of a back-up keeper to Ruddy.
He has produced another one of his own.
“His temperament t is great so I knew he could cope with playing behind the defence and I think he has the makings to be a top keeper – and we are fortunate to have three great goalkeepers,” said the City chief, recognising the abundance of riches he enjoys for that No1 spot.
“He is only a kid, but if he keeps his career going and keeps level headed he will have a massive career. His time at Yeovil on loan was great form him, but today is different. An FA Cup tie against a Premier League team is different.
“Would I have any fear throwing him in again? I would not have any fear whatsoever.”
Holt opened the scoring before the interval as he converted an Elliott Bennett cross for his ninth goal of the season; the 62nd of his Canary career.
Marc Antoine-Fortune would level, before substitute Jackson made the most of a Craig Dawson error and send Norwich into the last 16 of this season’s competition.
“I am delighted,” said Lambert, who this week returned on-loan defender Ritchie de Laet to his Old Trafford sender ‘with immediate effect’.
But as a spot of cup fever hits Norfolk tonight, so the manager remained wholly wedded to his No1 target – keeping the Canaries in the top flight of English football.
“Wanting to stay in the Premier League is not to undermine the FA Cup at all but, if you’re asking me what I would prefer, Premier League status is vital to the football club.”