City boss Paul Lambert wasn’t alone in putting this weekend’s 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers right up there on a pedestal – Canary goal-scorer Anthony Pilkington, likewise, shared his delight.
For it was a result pulled out of the jaws of adversity as first-half injuries to first Daniel Ayala and then Zak Whitbread robbed Norwich of both starting centre-halves.
With Kyle Naughton and Russell Martin left to deal with the arrival of Kevin Davies and the Canaries arriving back on home turf with that 3-0 defeat at Sunderland fresh in the memory, events could have conspired against Lambert’s men after the manager had already made four changes.
Lesser teams – lesser characters – would have folded; shrunk away from the challenges the footballing fates had delivered and left the mid-week ‘blip’ hanging heavy in the air.
Instead, of course, two late goals from Andrew Surman and then Pilkington took the Canaries back into the top half of the table with confidence, belief and team spirit fully intact.
Where tonight they remain – now four wins clear of Wanderers in the third and final ‘drop slot’; three wins away from that 40-point survival mark.
All, of course, with a fifth round FA Cup tie and two big signings still to factor into this spring’s thinking in the shape of that home clash against Leicester City and ex-Leeds skipper Jonny Howson and Posh centre-half Ryan Bennett, whose late signature now looks ever more timely if both Ayala and Whitbread face long spells on the sidelines.
Until his loan spell back at London Road expires, Martin and Leon Barnett could hold the fort; Elliott Ward is also on his way back from long-term injury. Right now, reasons to be down-hearted are few and far between.
“I think both the result and the performance were right up there,” the 23-year-old told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards, like everyone else well aware of the need to banish events at the Stadium Of Light from the memory.
That City certainly did on the back of his sixth goal of a highly encouraging season.
“We needed that – especially after Wednesday night,” he said. “We needed to bounce back with a bang and we’ve done that today.”
Defeat to Martin O’Neill’s resurgent Sunderland side had bruised Norfolk pride. Time to make amends and put the Canaries so much closer to that survival finishing line.
“It hurt,” admitted Pilkington. “We don’t want to be going to places like Sunderland and be turned over in the manner that we did. We weren’t good enough on the night and it was all about the response.
“And that showed – and we had a great one [response] today.”
Chances weren’t in short supply. Both skipper Grant Holt and strike partner Simeon Jackson had their moments to add to the Trotters’ fears before Surman and Pilkington ended any fears of a Bolton smash-and-grab.
Those two now have ten goals between them from midfield – an excellent return given the company Norwich are now keeping in the top flight of English football.
“We should have had more goals, but it wasn’t to be,” said Pilkington, as he continues to show rich promise on his elevation from League One to Premier League. It was a sure and certain finish right in front of the Barclay. Not his best, but one of his “most important” he declared afterwards.
“We’ve come off at 2-0 and kept another clean sheet which is another massive boost as well,” added the former Huddersfield star, happy to be in the attacking mix – whether it be Steve Morison leading the line or skipper Holt. With Wes Hoolahan flitting in between.
“The attacking has never been a problem all through the season – it’s just about keeping our shape and keeping compact as a team. We’ve done that today – and it’s just a massive result coming off Wednesday.”
He also offered a quick word of praise for substitute Elliott Bennett who found himself slammed in at right-back as Lambert’s best-laid defensive plans threatened to come asunder under that double, first-half injury blow.
“He was terrific,” he said. “Just like Cafu. And then we had Russell Martin and Kyle Naughton at centre-half – it was brilliant. Everyone mucks in and everyone gives 110 per cent for Norwich City.”
Douglas Millar says
Sitting in the N & P Upper tier directly above the goal, I had a perfect view of the defence in the second half. It is always clear to see how well Russell Martin directs the defence. His reading of the game is excellent and perhaps explains why he has made so may important interceptions and clearances this season.