City boss Alex Neil got all the reaction he wanted and more this afternoon as the Canaries cruised to a 4-1 away win at a hapless Millwall.
The mid-week defeat at home to Wigan had left everyone wondering whether a promotion bubble was about to burst; whether Norwich could pick themselves up, dust themselves down and carry on where they had left off with the derby win over Ipswich Town.
Equally, could they shrug off the loss of the in-form Lewis Grabban whose ankle injury looks set to rule him out for the rest of the season.
The answer to each was a resounding: ‘Yes!’ as two goals either side of the break merely compounded the pressure on Lions boss Ian Holloway and left his opposite number Neil purring with delight as City re-affirmed their automatic promotion credentials.
“The intensity was back in our game,” said the Canary chief, after the mid-week defeat at home to the Latics ended City’s compelling winning run.
With Middlesbrough losing and Derby being held, the return of said intensity could not have been better timed. Tonight the Norfolk might still sit fifth but they are only a point behind leaders Bournemouth.
More importantly, the wind is right back in their sails again as the door to a swift return to the Premier League bangs wide open.
“For a 20-25 minute spell at the start of the second-half I thought that was about as good as it’s been since I’ve been here,” a delighted Neil told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards as a second goal for Jonny Howson and one for Wes Hoolahan swept City to another big victory on the road.
“Credit to the players, I didn’t think they did themselves justice the other night but the reaction today was really good,” he added.
“It’s important [scoring lots of goals] but more important is the way we are playing. We looked relatively solid at the back which was really pleasing.”
The 33-year-old knows that opportunity knocks loud and clear for him to make quite a name for himself south of the border over the next couple of months – if his players continue to deliver today’s level or performance on a consistent basis.
Howson and Hoolahan thoroughly enjoyed themselves against an unhappy home side, while Hooper’s sure penalty strike for City’s second made sure that Grabban’s misfortunes were less on everyone’s mind than they were late on Wednesday night.
“Results probably went for us again today but to be fair we are doing our part and we need to continue that,” said Neil.
“With the group we have got and how we are playing just now there is no reason why we can’t put a real strong run-in between now and the end of the season. It’s going to make for a real exciting run-in.”
Howson got the ball rolling with a 38th minute strike from the edge of the box; Cameron Jerome then persuading Alan Dunne to concede a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Two goals to the good, City pushed the pedal to the metal after the interval with goals from Howson and Hoolahan. Only the width of the woodwork denied the on-loan Graham Dorrans his first goal in City colours as the visitors revelled in their hosts’ misfortunes.
Their lone consolation came in the shape of a 79th minute penalty from Lee Gregory following a foul by the returning Gary O’Neil.
By then the contest was long over. City had both the points and the performance they needed to keep the pot firmly bubbling.
And with both Derby and Boro still to come to Norfolk, Norwich’s fortunes are firmly in their own hands. Game on…
Neil N. Pray says
Do you know that Grabban’s ankle is likely to rule him out for the season, or is that just speculation? Alex Neil seemed far more optimistic in his comments.
What a game in prospect next week! Derby will be absolutely seething after throwing away two points like that, and City’s players will feel they owe the home fans a big performance after the Wigan no-show. Can’t wait.