Cameron Jerome’s 17th goal of the season coupled to a top corner stunner from Bradley Johnson ensured that Alex Neil’s Canaries will fly into Sunday’s derby date with Ipswich courtesy of a 2-1 away win at Blackburn Rovers.
A goal down at the interval, the arrival of Jerome ten minutes after the interval finally gave City the means to turn possession into points.
Six minutes from the end of normal time and Johnson’s ninth goal of the season gave the Norfolk club another huge three points.
Neil’s nine games in charge have now yielded seven wins, one draw and one defeat. Or 22 points from an available 27. It is, by any measure, a remarkable return for a manager’s first two months at the helm.
Even more so for a 33-year-old with no previous experience of life in the nPower Championship.
The result kept City fifth. They will leap-frog over their nearest and dearest should they win on Sunday.
The celebrations on the pitch that greeted the final whistle was yet more evidence of a playing squad wholly as one with one another.
“I felt for the first 25 minutes or so of the game I felt we didn’t move the ball about quick enough – our use of the ball wasn’t good enough; it wasn’t sharp enough,” said Neil afterwards, getting full into his Press speak stride.
“I think them scoring kicked us into life a little bit,” he added. “We had a chat at half-time and I thought the second-half was considerably better. We looked a real threat and I think the players demonstrated in that second-half how much it means to them.”
The winner capped another famous evening as Johnson celebrated his new, long-term deal in some style.
It wasn’t just the players hitting the party button. On the touchline too, the celebrations were something to be savoured.
“It means the world to me,” Neil told BBC Radio Norfolk. “I’m here to win games and do the best I possibly can for Norwich and my group of players.”
Neil’s horse for a bobbly, scratchy Ewood Park course revolved around keeping Jerome out of harm’s way ahead of Saturday’s derby, whilst equally making sure Norwich got their money’s worth from the loan arrival of Graham Dorrans. Gary Hooper was out with a sickness bug.
Nathan Redmond also found himself back in favour as Wes Hoolahan dropped into his favoured hole off the in-form Lewis Grabban and Johnson mopped up in front of the standard back four.
The biggest loser was Alexander Tettey who found himself joining Jerome on the bench. There was every reason to suspect that the Norwegian international could be there for the same reasons – Sunday’s lunch date with the neighbours.
The game offered little by way of free flowing football and when the first breakthrough came, it was little surprise that it came off a set-piece play as Rovers’ Tom Cairney dropped the ball onto the head of Alex Baptiste to give the home side a 22nd minute lead.
City’s recent water-tight efforts had sprung a leak. The manager might have a word or two at the interval as to Norwich’s sudden vulnerability from a set play.
The fact that the visitors were enjoying by far the greater share of possession and were leading the corner count 4-0 would also make sure that Neil had something to say as the Canaries looked to force their way back into the contest.
A point, at least, would be a decent return from an awkward away trip as Derby, Middlesbrough, Brentford, Watford and Ipswich all found themselves ahead at half-time. Norwich need to keep bang in their midst. It would be another big, 45 minutes in the story of their season.
With Dorrans trying his luck just before the interval and Hoolahan his just after, Neil made his first change of the night in the 54th minute as Jerome duly replaced Redmond.
As he proved with his strike at Watford at the weekend, something from nothing is one of his specialities. For the 1,060 Norwich supporters who made the long haul north tonight a Jerome Special would be just the ticket.
It arrived in the 65th minute; just ten minutes after the 28-year-old had taken to the field. City’s Player of the Season contest was starting to look something of a formality.
In fairness, it was all that City deserved after pressing relentlessly after the interval. In the event, Jerome was little more than six yards out as he converted Hoolahan’s cross – straight through Jason Steele’s legs. Few will care whether it was three yards or 30; it was another big and timely strike from the Canary hit man.
Wesley would twice tee up Jonny Howson around the 70 minute mark as Norwich drove on in search of a winner; Howson would find Steele in steelier from as the visitors continued to dominate.
Six minutes from the end of normal time and Norwich’s second-half comeback was complete as Johnson drilled a special of his own into the top corner from some 20-yards distant.
The Canary Nation erupted in a chorus of ‘Get ins!’. It was another scrapbook night; another step closer to a swift return to the English Premier League.
Massive result. With all the other chasing teams getting wins a defeat, even a draw would have hurt. It’s a huge testament to the players and especially the new coaching team and Alex Neil.
All eyes now turn to the big weekend game. When we were promoted under Paul Lambert I got to the stage where I just couldn’t see us losing. This year I’m not quite there yet. I confess to some nerves against the noisy neighbours of ours. But should we take the points I will really start to think it can be done! I hope in this season of ups and downs that bad run of ten games or so doesn’t prove too heavy a weight, we have very little room for error.
OTBC and starting to get a little excited!
Superb result. Massive three points to stay in touch with the others. It’s over to you Bournemouth. OTBC