Tunnel vision helps Canaries drive on
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:57 10 September 2010
Norwich City 2, Hartlepool United 1: Paul Lambert insists he isn't concerned what Leeds and Charlton are doing - "I don't look over my shoulder" - but he will have to have amazing will power not to sneak a look at the League One table this morning and not write down a list of 'what ifs'.
Paul Lambert insists he isn't concerned what Leeds and Charlton are doing - "I don't look over my shoulder" - but he will have to have amazing will power not to sneak a look at the League One table this morning and not write down a list of 'what ifs'.
Like, what if Charlton come unstuck at Walsall tomorrow?
And what's best on Wednesday - Leeds beating Spurs in the FA Cup, or having glory whipped from under their noses and suffering a hangover?
And how about if City win at Millwall next weekend and Leeds and Charlton lose at Hartlepool and Swindon respectively?
Ifs, buts and maybes, all of them, but it's the stuff that football is made of, the stuff that currently has us on the edges of our seats. Please stop the season. Now.
Leeds have wavered of late - their win over Colchester on Saturday ended a run of three without a win - while Charlton just keep on stuttering.
City, in contrast, keep ploughing on: victory over Hartlepool on Saturday secured a club record 11th consecutive home win in a single season, maintaining the three-point gap over Leeds and increasing the margin to Charlton to eight, courtesy of the Addicks' failure to beat Tranmere at home.
A psychological boost, perhaps?
"Because I know every game is hard and I never really look over my shoulder," said Lambert.
"Leeds still have games in hand and are a really good side. Charlton are a really dangerous side, there are teams there that are dangerous. I have enough to worry about than looking at somebody else."
True, every word of it. What's missing is the bit where Lambert says: "But, of course, we just seem to keep on winning whether we play brilliantly or poorly."
City were neither on Saturday, probably because Chris Turner is under fire from Hartlepool fans so, instead of coming to Norwich and hoping to escape with a point, he had to show some ambition. Hartlepool pounced on City every time they were on the ball. It slowed down their passing game and upset their rhythm.
So instead of City making the running, they had to share it.
When Neil Austin fired Hartlepool ahead after 26 minutes it perhaps wasn't the biggest surprise in town. City hadn't got going - although it sometimes does tend to take 20 minutes or so.
But it was perhaps the worst thing the visitors could have done. City were irked and with a little over a minute were level, Russell Martin's pinpoint cross expertly headed home by Cody McDonald, preferred to Oli Johnson as the replacement for the suspended Grant Holt.
Lambert admitted it was a kick up the backside that City needed, and when they got a second five minutes later there was a familiar feeling that Hartlepool were going to be another in the long lost of brave but incapable teams who have succumbed this season.
Rose, on his debut, was on the end of a nice City move which saw Darel Russell free Chris Marin on the left, the young striker cutting inside but then switching a reverse pass into Rose's path. The option was a low cross.
Goalkeeper Scott Flinders bought it and as he prepared to come out, Rose smashed it to his right. A schoolboy error.
The loanee was only playing because Adam Drury was injured, but City's Mr Consistency will probably wonder how it is that a keeper got it wrong for Rose, but a week earlier a keeper had twice denied him his first goal for exactly five years and eight days. It's called Sod's law.
Instead of trailing at the break, City were in the driving seat, but despite Hartlepool's best efforts, the visitors couldn't get back into the game.
They managed to put the shackles on Wes Hoolahan for long periods, including more misplaced passes from the midfielder than he's made this year, while getting right up the nose of Russell, who didn't take kindly to one or two close encounters with Andy Monkhouse.
Hartlepool proved as tricky to negotiate as the ice-covered paths and roads leading to Carrow Road, but ultimately lacked a cutting edge in attack.
Their best chance to level fell to the decidedly average Denis Behan - created by the veteran Ritchie Humphreys, who even at 32 showed lots of class - in the second half, but he was foiled by goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who was off his line so quickly he must have left tread marks in his six-yard box.
Perhaps a little more ambition would have served Hartlepool well, but you do wonder what sort of game they will give Leeds next weekend.
While their rivals are in action, City have a free week, and they need it.
Their last two games have been the only times this season they have had to come from behind to win.
Perhaps it shows they're human after all, even though it's a super-human effort they're producing.
A year ago the fans were celebrating a three-game unbeaten run which was expected to be beginning of something big.
It was, in a most unfortunate sort of way.
Now we're looking at them making it a total of 17 games unbeaten.
Getting out of Millwall with something on Saturday is by no means certain, but if they come through that test then Lambert is going to find it very difficult not to have a look around.
It will also be the final match of Holt's suspension, so he returns fit and refreshed and, presumably, eager to get going again - which means that Oli Johnson and McDonald can return to the bench, which is where they both belong.
Not because there's anything wrong with them, but because the run-in between now and the first week of May needs players who are physically at their peak and 100pc match fit.