That felt good, didn’t it?
We all knew this game against AFC Wimbledon, the league leaders, was the biggest challenge of the season so far. City needed to be on their game to ensure they took anything away from The Nest.
In last week’s column, I described this game as season-defining, and boy was I right. Come the spring when the season is over we may just look back on this as THE game that not only won promotion (hopefully) but also defined the careers of this group of women and its management team.
Having the home game against Wimbledon first was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the Yellow Army to show the South Londoners that they are here to stay and we will be pushing them all the way in what promises to be a historic promotion battle.
Heading down to NR10, the tension was palpable, but there was also a resounding excitement among the City fans as they got to see their team in action once again.
From seemingly playing every game away from home a month ago, it’s certainly nice to now have regular visits to The Nest.
Martin Herdman made two changes to the side that lost to Boldmere St Michaels in the FA Cup last weekend, with Natasha Snelling and Hope Strauss finding their way back into the starting XI.
It was a selection call that proved to be inspired.
The game started frantically, with Wimbledon striker Ashleigh Goodard rattling the crossbar after only three minutes. Dons forward Billie Brooks then started to take the game by the scruff of its neck, having two great chances early on.
The first saw Brooks connect with a good delivery by Wimbledon top-scorer Ashley Hinks from a corner but fired just over and then minutes later Brooks rattled the crossbar from close range with a toe poke.
Luck was certainly in favour of the home side.
With the visitors still dominating Norwich were reduced to counterattacks to get up the field and it was from a breakaway where they reaped their rewards.
Perhaps being inspired by Brooks’ impact in the game, Lauren Tomlinson then went on an inspiring run covering almost the entire length of the pitch before crossing to Snelling, who saw her effort go wide.
Recent goal machine Ellie Smith found Snelling in the penalty area on 31 minutes, who saw her strong effort fizz past Dons ‘keeper Faye Barker to put City 1-0 up.
It was the perfect start for Norwich, even if the visitors put them under pressure early on.
The afternoon then got even better for the hosts when Snelling doubled her and Norwich’s tally after substitute Rachel Lawrence steered a perfectly weighted cross towards the back post for the striker to meet to send the hosts in two goals up at halftime.
We’ve spoken before about Herdman’s player management skills and once again they were displayed in abundance here. To bring on Lawrence at such a crucial time, especially as Smith was starting to make an impact in the game, shows the manager’s tactical nous.
The start of the second half was almost a carbon copy of the first, with the visitors starting the brighter of the two.
Ellie Dorey had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 53rd minute after a well-worked counterattack but saw her tame effort gathered easily by Sarah Quantrill.
The City keeper was once again forced into action just after the hour mark, this time needing a double save to deny the league leaders, with a historic clean sheet fully in sight now.
It was THAT woman once again – Ceri Flye who stopped another promising breakaway from the visitors on 65 minutes. Having Flye back from injury has almost felt like a new signing over the past couple of weeks, and she’s showing why she’s so highly regarded by everyone at the club.
Then came the best chance of the second half, with Lawrence using her quick feet to once again find Snelling ready to pounce in the area, but Baker was out quickly and was equal to it.
The late heartbreak of the Boldmere defeat was still in the back of the minds of this City team who did everything in their power to retain a clean sheet but were nearly undone.
Although you could argue that leading by two in stoppage time is a comfortable lead, a late goal to reduce the deficit could completely change the dynamic and spur Wimbledon on for an equaliser.
That’s almost what happened as the Dons peppered the box with chance after chance, which were all met by the big gloves of Quantrill for a huge three points for the Canaries.
So, they have done it! The character displayed by this side to bounce back from such an agonising cup exit last week to win the most important fixture yet shows not only how good this current crop is, but also that they can go head-to-head with anyone.
This win puts Norwich just three points behind Wimbledon with a game in hand over the side from Plough Lane and retains the Canaries’ record as the only side in the National League Division One South East to remain unbeaten. As only one team is promoted automatically from the division, the extra game could be crucial if they are to realise their promotion dream.
Next week, the girls can relax and enjoy a much-deserved week off after all of their hard work in recent weeks. They return to action on December 17th when they host Chesham United at The Nest in their last fixture of 2023.