Two more goals from the irrepressible Bradley Johnson were enough to see Alex Neil’s Canaries muscle their way into the automatic promotion places this afternoon courtesy of a regulation 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Goals No 12 and 13 for the season in the 33rd and 45 minutes gave City the points and made Johnson a nigh-on shoe-in for the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy in a few, frantic weeks time.
The Canaries might even have found themselves sitting atop of the Championship pile but for Bournemouth’s second-half revival against Birmingham City and a 4-2 success for the Cherries.
But with Middlesbrough’s title challenge appearing to run out of steam as they lost 2-0 to Watford earlier in the day, so Norwich remain the team to beat as they power their way ever nearer to the top spot and in Johnson have a player in prime, match-winning form.
“Whether its a scrappy 1-0 or whether you’re comfortable, you just want to win the games,” said a delighted Neil after a Bank Holiday weekend that has yielded six points, two clean sheets and three goals from You-know-who.
He will, the manager confirmed to BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards, miss two games courtesy of a second-half yellow card that was ‘avoidable’.
You take a little bit of rough with a lot of smooth in the shape of those two, first-half finishes.
“You don’t want to lose any of your best players, but he has picked up his tenth booking today,” Neil confirmed.
“His header was fantastic,” he added, as Johnson continued to revel in the club’s promotion proceedings.
“When he went up, I didn’t think he would actually be able to score because of the lack of pace on the ball but he generates so much power and the direction on it was fantastic.”
Two goals to the good at the interval, City slipped down a gear thereafter.
“I thought in the second-half we played within ourselves,” admitted Neil, not wholly unhappy that his side had left something in the tank.
“I’d have liked to have seen us speed up our play a times, but the week that we have got ahead, maybe it’s not a bad thing that we didn’t over-exert in the second-half because we have some really important games coming up.”
For today’s clash, City’s line-up had an all-too familiar look to it as Wes Hoolahan continued ahead of Good Friday hero Nathan Redmond with Gary Hooper likewise forced to watch events unfold from the bench.
The one ‘unfamiliar’ name to pop up on the team-sheet was that of Carrow Road misfit Luciano Becchio.
The 31-year-old Argentinian has played just ten minutes for the club this season – a late appearance in the 3-1 Capital One Cup victory over Crawley Town. A loan spell at Rotherham did at least yield a couple of goals for the former Leeds United striker whose switch to Norfolk in 2013 has not quite hit the heights of Messrs Howson and Johnson.
It would be an extremely curious twist of fate should Becchio play a part in Norwich’s final promotion push.
The Canaries were swiftly into their stride as the home faithful roared them on. Cameron Jerome had a loud penalty appeal waved away in the sixth minute as Norwich forced three corners in quick succession; a Steven Whittaker volley deflecting over in the midst of it all as Alex Tettey saw his low effort saved.
It wasn’t wholly one-way traffic as Lloyd Isgrove and Caolan Lavery both got a glimpse of John Ruddy’s goal in a lively opening to the contest that came to feature three yellow cards.
The breakthrough arrived just after the half-hour mark – almost inevitably via that man Johnson. Whittaker played his part again by directing the ball deep into the Wednesday box, but thereafter it was all about desire as the City midfielder rose above Marnick Vermijl to head Norwich in front.
Carrow Road rightly rose to greet one it’s recent finest; a player who, more than most, is shouldering the weight of the Norfolk club’s promotion hopes via an object lesson in where sheer will and determination can get you. That and a hammer for a left foot.
That he unleashed again in the first minute of stoppage time to double City’s advantage – hooking home Graham Dorrans’ ill-cleared corner for his 13th goal of an irresistible, individual season.
Should the day finish with the scores elsewhere as they were, Norwich would be top of the table and bang on course for the swiftest of returns to the EPL.
Not that Johnson enjoyed a perfect afternoon. Re-arriving on the pitch too early after a spot of touch line treatment prompted his tenth yellow card and a likely two-match ban for the games against Leeds United and Bolton. Missing the former, in particular, will hurt.
It also prompted an intense bout of checking whether it was No 10 or actually No9 for the season – in itself a further indication of just how much Johnson has come to occupy centre stage of late.
As for the game, that strike on the interval took much of the heat out of the contest as Norwich eyed a comfortable afternoon at the office and mid-table Wednesday started to get in flip-flop mode.
Some ten minutes from the end of normal time and Redmond duly arrived for Hoolahan. Hooper would replace Dorrans before the end as Becchio again proved surplus to the club’s requirements.
Not for the first time this season – and, ideally, not for the last – the master blaster had done the job as Norwich saw out the game with ease as visitors Wednesday failed to register a single shot on target.