Everything's starting to fall into place
PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:52 10 September 2010
Norwich City 1, Wycombe 0: Norwich City's first league visit to Adams Park could play a major part in the outcome of their season, but events elsewhere over which Paul Lambert had no control - allegedly - may also have helped swing things in their favour.
Norwich City's first league visit to Adams Park could play a major part in the outcome of their season, but events elsewhere over which Paul Lambert had no control - allegedly - may also have helped swing things in their favour.
While City were battering poor old Wycombe into submission, Charlton were twiddling their thumbs after their match at Walsall was postponed because of an icy pitch - five days after City's game there suffered the same fate, albeit just an hour before kick-off.
Wycombe's pitch was immaculate, thanks to under-soil heating and despite the regular presence of the London Wasps rugby team and their guests.
Cue "I told you so" comments, with Lambert having a wry smile at the prospect of Addicks' boss Phil Parkinson being blamed, just as the City manager had inexplicably been a week ago.
With Charlton redundant - and I suppose we should be thankful to Walsall for that - it meant a City win would take them into the second automatic promotion spot on goal difference, and when Korey Smith scored on 77 minutes they got exactly what they wanted.
Charlton have drawn their last three games, City have won their last three - and you wonder how the exchange of places will affect the Londoners, who started the season with six straight wins but have now been overhauled first by Leeds and now by City.
Okay, it's only the start of the second half, but Charlton are now the chasers. Football's played with the boots and upstairs, between the ears.
And what about Colchester, who were eagerly anticipating the visit of City in less than a fortnight's time, but are probably a little more wary now after a 7-0 humiliation in the FA Cup at managerless Championship strugglers Preston on Saturday?
Ironic, isn't it? Seven goals shipped and your next home game is a potentially explosive game against City. How will that affect their minds?
Then there was yesterday's FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, where Leeds shocked the champions with a 1-0 win. Will their extended stay in the competition hinder their league ambitions?
The next round is on January 23, before which Leeds have three fairly comfortable games, but even with an eight-point lead they can't afford a slip.
Can City overtake Leeds? Such has been the relentless surge over the past four months that few would bet against it. In the first week of September, City were 10th, a month later it was seventh, and by the start of November they were fifth. A month ago City had moved into third - and now they're second.
While it may all be hypothetical, it would also be surprising if Charlton, Colchester and Leeds came out of their respective weekend assignments totally and completely unscathed: there will be a knock-on effect somewhere down the line.
And, meanwhile, City will be watching, comfortable in the knowledge that they really do look invincible at the moment.
Wycombe escaped with just a one-goal defeat not because they played well, but because City were an inch or two away from hitting a hatful. Simon Lappin's left foot and Chris Martin's right had goalkeeper Scott Shearer stretching left and right and knocking on the chairman's door afterwards demanding a New Year bonus. When he was beaten, by Martin, the crossbar came to his aid.
It took Wes Hoolahan's perfect pass into the path of Korey Smith and a blast of the teenager's right foot to settle the issue - 60 seconds after Matt Phillips had gone within inches of giving Wycombe an undeserved goal, only to see his effort come back off the inside of Fraser Forster's right-hand post.
But in future years, when people look back on City's first league trip to this part of the Chilterns, the scoreline will go nowhere near to explaining the game.
Wycombe had a few moments: the excellent Russell Martin had to usher the breaking Jon-Paul Pittman away from goal before emerging from their tussle with the ball - a job very well done - while Scott Davies somehow put a free header well wide.
But they didn't compare to Hoolahan's left-footer which flew just over, Simon Lappin's free-kick which Scott Shearer did well to save and the Scotsman's shot which whistled wide, Russell Martin's dipping half-volley from wide right which was tipped over; Darel Russell's shot which was wide; Chris Martin's free-kick which came off the crossbar and then an effort which was tipped over.
Breathless stuff. And in the second half City were even more dominant.
Grant Holt had a goal disallowed - not much argument as he practically pushed the ball in with his hand - before Chris Martin and Shearer continued their own personal battle.
That Shearer came out on top was unfortunate on the City striker, who continues to grow in stature almost by the game.
Russell Martin got in on the act again only for Shearer to tip his shot over while Holt might have done better in a one-on-one - but this was Shearer's day, even if he did need a bit of help from right-back Lewis Hunt to keep out Holt's back-heel after another flurry of nerve-jangling activity.
It was cracking, attacking football served up in front of 2,000 City fans who turned Adams Park into a subsidiary of Carrow Road for the afternoon.
The only fear was that while the law of averages says a shot must go in before 4.45pm, it doesn't always work out that way.
Would City somehow contrive to come away empty-handed? Or worse? The latter was certainly on everyone's minds on 76 minutes when Phillips broke into the area on the right. Forster came, Phillips clipped it past him and there followed one of those heart-in-the-mouth moments when everything stops.
The ball headed goalwards. It seemed to take an age to get there. Then it hit the inside of the post. Then it came out again. Then Forster grabbed it with those massive hands of his. And we breathed again.
It proved a costly miss: a minute later Chris Martin had the ball down the left, gave it to Hoolahan who, instead of having a jink and a crack at goal, saw Smith running in from just outside the area. By the time he got to within 12 yards of goal, the ball had been squared to him. On a plate. Smith buried it. City fans went wild. Paul Lambert went wild, the straight arm thumbs up salute a sign of solidarity with the fans.
When Lambert came to Carrow Road he wanted the players and fans on his side, he said. He's got both.