Two goals from Cameron Jerome proved just enough to take the Canaries back into the leading pack this evening as the Canaries made a welcome return to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers.
For 85 minutes, it was all going quite nicely to plan in front of the Sky TV cameras only for Lee Chung-Yong to spring a Halloween fright on boss Neil Adams with a late strike.
It was only Bolton’s second shot on target all night, but ensured that City’s long-standing tradition of doing nothing easily continued to bedevil managers present, as well as past.
But, in the end, it was the result that mattered more than anything and Adams ended the night with three points to his name – albeit at the cost of a few more grey hairs as Wanderers failed to wholly ruin his night in the five minutes of added-on time.
“We all needed that,” said a relieved Adams afterwards, as City finally got what one or two of their recent performances deserved.
Not that it was all plain sailing.
“Those last five games where we have drawn or lost, we have probably played better in some of them than at times tonight,” Adams told BBC Radio Norfolk.
“But I thought it was well deserved. 2-0 would have been easier on the heart at the end. But, overall, delighted.”
The City chief had special word of praise for Gary O’Neil in his re-jigged midfield; the threat of a second yellow saw his early exit.
“He’s been impressive, hasn’t he? He’s cool, calm and composed on the ball. He never seems flustered; he’ll take the ball anywhere,” said Adams, confirming that Elliott Bennett was indeed en route to Brighton tonight for talks re a short term loan deal.
Chances of a start are few and far between as Adams continues to play with his midfield options. O’Neil looks good for another start in mid-week away at Middlesborough.
“His passing was crisp and I thought his set-play deliveries were very good. I didn’t want to take him off, but he was on a yellow – and had had a warning.”
Ahead of kick off and the City chief proved that he wasn’t shy of making changes in a bid to find that winning mix as both Lewis Grabban and Bradley Johnson found themselves deposited on the bench as Kyle Lafferty and O’Neil took to centre stage.
With Wes Hoolahan still sidelined by his ankle injury, the playmaker bit belonged to Johnny Howson. No mean substitute for the mercurial Dubliner, Howson has a little more physicality to his game which, in this division, helps.
And then there was Nathan Redmond who once again demonstrated why he is rated, why he figures large in the England Under-21 set up and why, on his night, he can be a real threat in this division.
With the locals understandably twitchy over the recent loss of results, if not form, there was a collective sigh of relief as Jerome rediscovered his scoring touch within 12 minutes of the start – a neat piece of inter-play with the ever-thoughtful Howson ending with a sure, low finish from the former Stoke striker.
It was just the kind of early pick-me-up that Adams needed – particularly against a Bolton side now managed by Neil Lennon; someone who may – or may not – have been in the Carrow Road managerial frame over the summer.
It also, finally, proved that Norwich can score a goal before the interval, they can keep their concentration and not concede five minutes later and they can still aspire to head the Championship table if all the sums of their various parts fire in unison.
Tails up, TV cameras on and City could have extended their lead before the break as Howson, in particular, came agonisingly close to touching in a low cross from Martin Olsson; he, O’Neil and Lafferty would all try their luck before the break only for Wanderers luck to hold.
City were first out of the blocks after the break with Jerome firing over the Trotters’ bar within 90 seconds of the restart. It was Lafferty with the assist as Adams continued to tinker with systems and strikers in a bid to get the Canaries back on song and motoring north.
Jerome looks set to be a permanent fixture; it is who brings the best out of him that is the next question.
His importance to the Good Ship Adams was hammered home again just after the hour mark when he headed home City’s all-important second from an inviting O’Neil cross.
The two goals were his eighth and ninth of the season – tonight’s game was just his 12th appearance in a Norwich City shirt. For all the recent hand-wringing, that is a fabulous record and one that is more than capable of propelling the Norfolk club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.
It also tends to make the endless debates over what else Adams does with his team rather irrelevant.
Just ‘Feed the Goat’, as Darren Huckerby might say.
And don’t leave the back door open.