Three goals in the space of 16, extraordinary minutes at The Liberty Stadium this afternoon sent the Canaries into the seventh heaven with a thrilling 3-2 away win over Swansea City.
It also took them to eighth in the Premier League table – two points clear of Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who lost 2-1 at home to Arsenal this afternoon. More importantly, it left the Canaries 14 points clear of Blackburn in the third and final relegation spot. That’s some clear blue water going into the second half of February.
Seven was certainly a magic number for Anthony Pilkington as he delivered his second goal of the week – his seventh of the season – on 51 minutes to put the Norfolk visitors ahead after skipper Grant Holt had levelled Danny Graham’s first-half opener two minutes after the re-start.
Three minutes from the end and Graham would pop up with his second from the penalty spot after Holt was adjudged to have fouled Ashley Williams defending a late Swans corner to ensure a nervy finish for all concerned as the Swans drove forward in search of a late, late leveller and a point.
But with all hands on the defensive deck – Russell Martin, the returning Elliott Ward and John Ruddy all to the fore – so the Canaries held on to another magnificent away win. Only Manchester United had managed to prise three points out of Swansea in their own back-yard before today’s dramas unfolded.
Little wonder that City boss Paul Lambert was in buoyant mood afterwards.
“They were fantastic and I thought we deserved to win the game,” he told the BBC afterwards.
“I thought a lot of people thought that Swansea were going to beat us, but we came down here and played ever so well,” added the Canary chief, with the club now flying into next weekend’s FA Cup fifth round clash with Leicester City. All is sitting very, very pretty right now.
“The lads have been brilliant – everywhere we go, we go and try and win the game,” said Lambert.
“We don’t always do it, but we always try and give a good account of ourselves. But today I thought our passing was excellent and the way that we played the game was excellent.”
Nor was Lambert about to single out any one individual – even if Holt’s latest double strike will corner many a headline in the morning.
“He [Holt] was fantastic, but so was the team – it would be wrong to single out any one individual,” he said, even if two then got a mention in the manager’s post-match despatches.
“I thought we were terrific in all departments and Elliott Ward was tremendous for us in his first game of the season and Kyle Naughton was on one leg at the death, but we still managed to see it through. I’m absolutely proud of them.”
Holt – favoured ahead of Steve Morison for today’s long trip west – had earlier bagged his 11th of the season just after the hour-mark to put City within sight of victory at 3-1.
The two goals for the 30-year-old Canary hero either side of Pilkington’s latest strike took his tally to 11 for another glorious season in front of goal.
Overall, his Canary career has now yielded 54 goals from 108 league appearances; a one-in-two ratio that has defied the doubters in League One, the Championship and now the Premiership.
It also puts the one-time tyre-fitter within reach of his third, successive Barry Butler Player of the Season award; right now, it is likely that only the ever-willing Martin can deny him such an individual triumph.
Today and Martin was back at centre-half; helping to steer the returning Ward through his first start of the season. Not that he needed too much of a helping hand; he stood firm as and when the situation demanded and even popped up deep in the opposition half with a big, overhead assist for Holt’s opener two minutes after the re-start.
The Canaries could have settled everyone’s nerves a mite earlier had Naughton’s rasping drive not been tipped onto the bar. Wes Hoolahan would also see a goal-den opportunity come and go.
At 4-1 that would have been game, set and match. As it was, City found themselves with their backs to the wall for the last ten minutes, only to once again find both resilience and character riding to their rescue as they held out for another huge result en route to Premiership safety.