Steven Whittaker’s last minute strike ensured that Neil Adams’ festive fortunes continued to improve courtesy of a 2-2 lunchtime draw at Derby County.
With 89 minutes of the contest gone, the Rams looked set to drive into pole position table-wise as goals from Jonny Russell and a 55th minute penalty from Canary old boy Chris Martin wiped out Cameron Jerome’s 11th goal of the season.
The home side had, however, reckoned without Norwich’s newly-rediscovered resilience – coupled to that late, late finish from Whittaker as he pinged the leveller in off the post off a Russell Martin flick on with a finely-timed volley.
It gave City their seventh point out of the last nine and kept the pot bubbling along. An away point at a place like Derby suggests that events are on the turn. It was, in short, no Middlesbrough (a).
It left City still seventh ahead of this afternoon’s fixtures. More important, however, was the momentum that comes from grabbing such a late leveller – the celebrations that followed suggest a club and a dressing room back at ease with itself.
That alone is worth the missing two points from today’s trip to the East Midlands.
Little wonder Adams himself was full of Christmas good cheer afterwards. His managerial star is starting to rise once more – although the less kind-hearted might point to the arrival of Micky Phelan as the potential turning point.
Be that the case or not, it’s Adams’ name above the door. And the view from afar will have the Canary boss managing events, not his newly arrived coach. Both men will benefit in the long-run – whatever the short-term dynamics might be behind closed doors.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the players today,” said the City chief, as Norwich returned to looking at least the play-off part after that torrid spell through the late autumn when goals, points and plaudits all remained in desperately short supply.
“That was as good as we’ve played all season – and a point was the least we deserved,” added Adams, delighted by the manner in which his side responded to Derby’s 43rd minute opener.
For they flew out of the blocks immediately after the re-start and earned their due reward with Jerome’s equaliser in the 51st minute. Parity – nor good will – did not last long as Carlos Cuellar found C Martin prising a penalty out of him.
Tempers briefly flared as the one-time Beccles youngster grabbed his 12th of the season from the resulting spot-kick. At which point Derby were on course to storm to the top of the table and bounce back after their 2-0 defeat to promotion rivals Middlesbrough last week.
Norwich, still on a high from their 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield, had other ideas as Adams, Holt, Phelan and Co continued to find both points and performances flowing from a settled City side.
Gary O’Neil’s return to the starting line-up might have a part to play; as might the return to goal-scoring ways of Jerome who appears to have found a willing foil in Gary Hooper.
Again, the tight midfield keeps City in a contest for a far longer than their more gung-ho line-ups. With a solid platform built, Adams can then unleash more of his attacking options from the bench as the game opens up during the second period.
Cue the arrival of Messrs Redmond, Hoolahan and Grabban after the hour mark as Norwich looked to stretch the Rams in the game’s closing stages – even if they didn’t wholly expect it to be Whittaker offering the killer touch in front of goal.
The game could have taken a far different course of events had Jerome not strayed offside as Alexander Tettey pinged the ball home. But with one or two decisions going either way – not least a big handball appeal against Martin Olsson deep into the second-half – so Norwich rode their luck with officialdom as they matched their hosts across the park.
Indeed, before the end of the five minutes of added on time Grabban could even have grabbed a winner as the 1,500 travelling City supporters were given much to cheer by their rejuvenated Canaries.
Someone, somewhere has got them organised and believing again. This was another big point on their travels; two, equally big points ripped out of the hands of one of their promotion rivals.
Above all else, it sets Norwich up nicely for that frantic Christmas spell and the fact that Ryan Bennett could be spotted on the bench for the first time this winter underlines another key point at this time of year – City are very light on the injury front.
They have the bodies to throw at this – mix and match and keep limbs and hearts fresh. And that is a luxury not everyone in that top pack will enjoy.