City boss Paul Lambert admitted that today’s victory over Bolton was one of the most impressive of his tenure, after the 2-0 Carrow Road success took Norwich up to ninth in the Premier League.
It was crucial that the Canaries flushed the disappointing 3-0 midweek reverse at Sunderland out of their system and they did exactly that this bitterly cold February afternoon, with second-half goals from Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington sealing the contest.
And it’s worth noting that the home side lost both centre-halves to injury in the first 45 minutes, something that makes today’s effort – and clean sheet – all the more admirable.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said the City chief afterwards. “In the circumstances, losing Zak [Whitbread] and Daniel [Ayala], I thought we were absolutely brilliant.
“We definitely deserved to win the game, we were dominant from the off and the lads could have possibly got a couple more goals. Bolton are a good side who have been going well but I really thought we were excellent today. It was a fabulous response after Wednesday night.
“And it might, just might, keep us in the league. It was a big, big effort.”
Lambert made plenty of changes from the side beaten so soundly at Sunderland in midweek, with Russell Martin, Andrew Crofts, Bradley Johnson and Steve Morison dropping to the bench, replaced by Adam Drury, Simeon Jackson, David Fox and Anthony Pilkington respectively.
And it was the home side who looked the livelier of the two during the opening stages, with the extra ball-players in midfield trying to give the Canaries some degree of control.
On 11 minutes, a Whitbread header direct from a corner fell just wide and three minutes later, City had their first attempt on target.
Jackson’s cross from the right after a flowing move found the captain Grant Holt and his swivelled volley looked goalbound before Wanderers ‘keeper Adam Bogdan gathered it comfortably in the end.
Seconds later it was Jackson’s turn to have an effort on goal, but after Surman did well to play him in from the touchline, the Canadian international couldn’t negotiate the angle and shot wide.
However, on 24, City had the best chance of the match so far and they really should have taken the lead through the lively Surman.
Wes Hoolahan used his trickery to evade his marker on the right, delivering a perfect cross into the box, but after the ball fell to Surman via Holt, it looked easier to score than miss. Unfortunately for the former Wolves man, it crashed against the bar.
The Canaries were still dominating the possession stakes but their mood wasn’t helped when first Ayala, then Whitbread, were forced off through injury. Norwich would have to make do with a makeshift partnership of Kyle Naughton and substitute Martin for the remaining 60 minutes.
On 41, Bolton had their first sight of John Ruddy’s goal for a while but Martin Petrov arrowed a powerful shot just over the crossbar after a slight deflection.
City started the second-half like a train and again should have made it 1-0 through the skipper and talisman Holt. The returning Drury floated a beautiful ball into the box but the Norwich No.9 headed wide.
Holt then played in his strike partner Jackson on 51 minutes but much like his effort in the first-half, the Canadian could only shoot wide when well placed in the box. To be fair to Jackson, however, he was making a real nuisance of himself against the giant Bolton centre-back pairing of Zat Knight and David Wheater.
The next effort of note fell to the visitors and Owen Coyle’s men were starting to look a tad more threatening than in the first period. Former Liverpool man David Ngog crashed an effort goalwards, only for Ruddy to tip it wide, and the introduction of Kevin Davies came soon after, with the Lancashire side eager to exploit City’s lack of height at the back.
On 66 minutes, the classy Chris Eagles fed a teasing delivery across the face of the Norwich box, with Davies lurking, but four minutes later, the Canaries finally took the lead and it was that man Surman who made up for his glaring miss in the first-half.
A Jackson cross from the right found the South African-born midfielder in the box and after his first shot was blocked, Surman did superbly well to fire his right-footed rebound effort into the roof of the net. 1-0 and Carrow Road was rocking.
The danger wasn’t over though and on 79 minutes, Petrov slammed another left-foot drive at Ruddy from outside the box. Two minutes later, however, City really should have put the game to bed, with Holt missing the game’s second ‘sitter’.
Pilkington and Surman linked well on the right and the winger’s cross fell in the lap of the Canary captain, only for Holt to somehow poke it over.
That crucial second came four minutes later though and it was no less than Lambert’s men deserved, with Pilkington putting the game beyond Wanderers.
Martin shot at Bogdan amongst a crowded penalty area and the Bolton shot-stopper could only parry the ball to an alert Pilkington. The former Huddersfield man made no mistake from close range.
And that was that. It had been another highly satisfactory afternoon at Carrow Road and without mentioning the ‘s’ word, could City be only three wins away?
Norwich: Ruddy; Naughton, Whitbread (Bennett 40), Ayala (Martin 23), Drury; Fox; Pilkington, Surman; Hoolaham; Holt, Jackson (Morison 74). Subs: Steer, Crofts, Wilbraham, Johnson.