Kei Kamara’s Norfolk love affair blossomed into magical life at Carrow Road this afternoon as heroes old and new conjured up a huge, 2-1 home win over Everton to propel the Canaries eight points clear of the relegation zone.
It could have been oh-so different. For at 4.30pm, Leon Osman’s first-half header was in danger of condemning City to a 1-0 home defeat and pushing the Norfolk side ever closer to the relegation mire.
Fate, however, had a different ending in mind as first Kamara met Robert Snodgrass’ 84th minute corner with a thumping header to level the score before deep, deep into injury time, skipper Grant Holt stabbed home the winner off a Sebastien Bassong assist. The latter was, once again, immense.
But the look of sheer joy that passed across 31-year-old Holt’s face as he turned away to celebrate was all manner of demons being exorcised; it has been a tough, tough season for the Big Man – all-too often left to plough a long and lonely furrow up top.
But that one goal was as big as any as he has scored for his beloved Norwich; he knew it; the Faithful knew it; so did Hughton.
Once again, the City chief had pulled the ship round and served up a huge win when it needed it. Three, dour draws had supporters wondering again where this season was head.
But the injection of Kamara into his attacking options and the ‘Never say die!’ mentality that has survived the change of managerial regime rode to Hughton’s rescue. Defeats for Villa, Reading and QPR merely added to the sweetness of the afternoon. One to truly savour.
True to his word ahead of the Fulham game, the City chief did indeed have a 4-4-2 formation up his sleeve as skipper Holt shrugged off the minor back complaint that ruled him out of the last outing to initially partner Luciano Becchio up front.
With Alexander Tettey out injured, Hughton could also call on the greater creativity that a Jonny Howson brings to the party in a re-jigged midfield that still offered the craft and guile of a Hoolahan and a Snodgrass.
It was the latter that carved out the first chance of any real note; Sylvain Distin helping the ball flick and over the bar as Norwich slipped into a decent early gear. Not that the visitors were any slouches; they were gunning for that fourth spot for a reason.
It would be a big, big win for Norwich to rock David Moyes’ apple cart. And in Nikica Jelavic they had one of those predatory forwards who knows where the goal is. Mark Bunn was duly tested early on as Everton, likewise, put their best attacking foot forward. Perhaps this wasn’t the sure-fire 0-0 after all.
It certainly wasn’t going to be after the 39th minute mark when Osman headed Everton into the lead.
Not for the first time it was England left-back Leighton Baines with the big assist; Osman netting from little more than six yards out off a
perfectly-weighted cross into the danger area. It had been coming. Marouane Fellaini had pushed and probed in the same manner that Jelavic had in the game’s opening exchanges.
Together they are a handful – and Osman has long mastered the art of the well-timed run into the opposition box. Right back Seamus Coleman is no mug either. And the other thing you knew about Everton – or, indeed, of manager Moyes – that once they have their noses ahead, it is a devil of a job to dig that lead out of their hands again.
The one saving grace then was the news from Reading where Wigan had stolen into a 2-0 lead by the break. They look to be heading south with Rangers for company. That third and final relegation place, however, could be anyone’s.
Two minutes before the hour mark and Hughton made his first change of the afternoon as Kamara replaced Becchio alongside Holt; two minutes later and the MLS striker was testing Tim Howard as he continued where he left off in that late cameo against Fulham. The roof would raise should he be the one to find the leveller.
On 68 minutes, he had that chance only for his header to fly wide of the right upright. On came Anthony Pilkington for Hoolahan as the Canary faithful prayed for a hero – one moment, one person to lift those winter blues.
Six minutes from the end of normal time and Kamara filled that role to perfection as he powered an unstoppable header beyond Howard off a Snodgrass corner.
He had arrived. In style. And bang on time, too.
And there was still time for the Old Master to do his star turn…