A stunning free-kick from Robert Snodgrass, a spot-kick from Gary Hooper and a fine, injury-time striker from Leroy Fer lifted the Canaries out of the bottom three this evening courtesy of a huge, 3-1 home win over West Ham United.
With 45 minutes gone, boss Chris Hughton was potentially staring down the barrel of a P45 as West Ham went in a goal to the good; boos ringing around Carrow Road.
But 45 minutes later and it was big, big smiles all round in the directors’ box as the City players lifted their game by at least three gears, pushed up and pushed on and got their due reward with those three, second-half strikes.
The pick of the bunch was Snodgrass’ pearler of a free-kick; City would rattle the crossbar before the end – Fer sending all concerned home on a high with a sharply-taken chance deep into added-on time.
It lifted the Canaries up into 15th spot and pushed the Hammers nearer the bottom three; their control of the game dissolving either side of the break.
What that all means for Hughton’s level of support remains to be seen; the message board games of tennis will, no doubt, break out again this evening.
But, for now, Norwich supporters should share a united sense of relief that the bottom three was someone else’s problem tonight.
Hearts were firmly in mouths within the first ten minutes as the Hammers forced Norwich onto the back foot with John Ruddy forced to stretch and clear a decent chance for Kevin Nolan before rattling the crossbar with a Guy Demel header off a subsequent corner.
Neither of which would have settled the nerves locally as all concerned recognised the importance of this evening’s game. In many a regard.
Hughton had, in fairness, gone onto the offensive team-wise with Johan Elmander being partnered with Gary Hooper; Sebastien Bassong’s recent discomfort being rewarded by a place on the bench and the return of Ryan Bennett.
That in itself told a tale of a skipper who had yet to wholly lead by example this troubled season.
Again, for games of such import, would Grant Holt have found himself dropped to the bench? Such characters are worth their weight in gold; in times of trouble, they carry teams into the relative safety of mid-table. Club skipper Russell Martin took the armband in Bassong’s absence.
Nolan would have Ruddy stretching again in the 26th minute; this time low to his left as the Hammers continued to press more effectively than their hosts.
It would, you sensed, be a long and nervy evening. Not helped by Morrison’s 32nd minute opener as Nolan once more found his way behind the Norwich back line, clipped a little, angled ball back off the byline for the Hammers’ younster to gleefully slide into an empty net from no more than six yards out. He was on his own – six yards out; middle of the goal.
In fairness to the home faithful, they had kept their thoughts to themselves manager-wise. But how long that would last with West Ham comfortably in command and a goal to the good to boot was another matter. Player-wise, the big characters would stand up – the weaker would disappear.
The boos rang out at half-time; in fairness, they had been given precious little to cheer.
Hope sprang again nine minutes after the interval as Hooper persuaded Hammers keeper Jussi Jääskeläinen to concede a penalty. Up stood the former Celtic hitman and from 12-yards out – high and handsome – he opened his account in the English Premier League.
If Miss Fortune was going to smile on the hard-pressed Hughton, she could have done with allowing Jonny Howson’s 71st minute effort dip just that couple of inches more rather than slapping square against the bar.
In the event, however, she was just teasing. A minute later and Snodgrass was picking something out of the very top drawer free-kick wise as he left Jääskeläinen rooted with a perfect, sweeping free-kick inside the keeper’s left upright.
Norwich were ahead – something that looked so unlikely on the back of that lame opening half. Someone must have said something at the interval as the big players stepped up to the breach and answered their manager’s call.
With five minutes remaining Snodgrass could have put the game and the three priceless points beyond West Ham’s reach only to shank his ten-yard effort high and less than handsome.
But at least the ball was being kept at pitch-length from Ruddy’s goal as the Canaries looked to close out a huge, home win.
Whether or not it would nip the endless Hughton debate in the bud is, of course, doubtful.
The seam of managerial misgivings runs all too deep, one senses. But the simple, psychological lift that comes from being out of the bottom three can do wonders.
Equally, the players response to being backs firmly against the wall at the break suggests a dressing room that still believes.