Record-breaking City just keep on going

PUBLISHED: 13:14 03 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:17 10 September 2010

Chris Lakey

Bristol Rovers 0, Norwich City 3: The joke, rather cruelly, is that the Germans are always the first to the sun beds. Perhaps it should be changed to Bristol Rovers footballers who, at a time of year when you can tell who's most keen to get away and start their summer holidays, played as if they were already by the pool.

Bristol Rovers 0, Norwich City 3

The joke, rather cruelly, is that the Germans are always the first to the sun beds.

Perhaps it should be changed to Bristol Rovers footballers who, at a time of year when you can tell who's most keen to get away and start their summer holidays, played as if they were already by the pool.

Contrast that to the professionalism shown by the Canaries and that might go some way to explaining why City finished top and Rovers will finish just above the halfway mark.

City were good. Very good. They didn't need Rovers to have an off day - it would have happened anyway as they dominated the game in such a way that you left the west country thinking that anyone would have suffered at their hands.

But when you exhibit the sort of weaknesses Rovers did on Saturday, teams like City tend to kick sand in your face.

From the moment City were granted a guard of honour - brilliantly observed by the home fans who afforded City a deserved round of applause - the Pirates of Bristol proved to be genial hosts, and City plundered their booty.

Chris Martin took advantage of the first mistake, Oli Johnson added a second and by half-time City were cruising to their 12th away win in a record-breaking campaign on the road.

Stephen Hughes benefited from a gift in the second half and City left home with the record of having scored in every away league game of the season - for the first time in the club's history.

On the records front, there are a few for the class of 2010 to be proud of: Saturday's win took City's points tally to 95, which surpassed the 94 gained when they went up to the top flight under Nigel Worthington in 2004. Another record from six years ago went on Saturday when City made it 29 wins in a single season.

City have already set a record with their 11 consecutive wins in a single season - and one more clean sheet and goalkeeper Fraser Forster will equal Kevin Keelan's record of 19, set in 1974-75.

With those sort of stats behind you no opponents, whether their season is all but over or not, should be as generous as Rovers were. Perhaps the fact that, for the first time this season, City were under absolutely no pressure to win, enabled them to express themselves in the way they did.

Paul Lambert, who swapped tracky bottoms and boots for a suit, was the smartest of admirers as City passed it around, showboated a little, but not too much and then, when it was necessary, applied the classy finishing touches which has propelled them back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

Lambert made more changes, resting Darel Russell, Korey Smith and, again, Adam Drury. With Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan out injured, you wondered if he'd picked a “weakened” team and given some of his fringe players either a chance to impress him or a chance to impress any would-be suitors. Post-match he said Matt Gill - in for Russell at the base of the diamond - and McNamee, playing in the Hoolahan role at its tip, had nothing to prove to him, which suggests otherwise.

What he has appears to be a squad that, despite its lack of numbers, does have some depth.

If Gill and McNamee can play those roles in the Championship when there's something at stake, then perhaps he could save himself some money in the transfer market. That might not have been the case six months ago, but Lambert has made silk purses out of one or two other player situations, so there's no reason to suggest other fringe players haven't made the same progress.

That we rarely see them in action doesn't mean they can't do the job: it just means their job is done from the bench. Truth is, we'd all love to see Lambert's list of those he believes can, and those he believes cannot.

Gill stood out on Saturday: neat and tidy in the middle, cleaning up at the back, with one or two excellent challenges in the area.

Highly effective, you might say. McNamee stood out as well, but his offering is more from inside his the box of tricks: look-away passes, and more step-overs and flicks than a Ronaldo instructional video.

McNamee was involved in Martin's opener on 31 minutes when the striker intercepted a woeful pass by Daniel Jones and ended up sliding it into the corner.

The second came on the stroke of half-time when Martin headed on Forster's kick, McNamee lifting over the head of Jeff Hughes before playing in Oli Johnson who, with his first touch of the ball, clipped it beautifully over keeper Mikkel Andersen.

The third was courtesy of more comedy from the Rovers' back four, Martin supplying a near-post ball for Stephen Hughes to clip in.

In between City were relaxed, they knocked the ball around, they played high up the pitch, they looked every inch the League One champions.

Martin was involved in just about everything. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet, he dictates the play at the far end of the pitch and bullies defenders into moving where he wants them.

The passing was crisp, quick and accurate, but perhaps the only evidence of showboating came from McNamee: his body a times was like a Rubik's cube with some bits turning one way, some the other. Nothing really seemed to be in synch, but it all worked.

City could have scored more, but at times it was exhibition stuff.

Yes, it was the penultimate game and all that, but you'd really like to deliver the DVD to Sam Sodje and ask him why he thinks City aren't in the top two footballing sides in League One.

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