Was this Norwich City’s defining moment?
PUBLISHED: 17:48 12 December 2011
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This is the sort of result that defines your season – and such has been the level of recent achievement at Carrow Road that they become almost an annual event.
So, the moment I actually knew we would win promotion from League One was on January 23, 2010 when, despite having Grant Holt sent off we battled to an extremely ugly – or so I recall it now – victory over Brentford.
And the realisation that we could go up from the Championship came at Leicester on March 8 this year, when we enjoyed a sparkling 3-2 victory that was a lot more emphatic than ever the scoreline will suggest in the record books. Had the home side won they would have been four points off the top six; as it was we put some serious distance between ourselves and our pursuers.
And beating Newcastle is, for me, on the same level as both of these triumphs – and we’re slightly ahead of schedule this season, too.
It wasn’t a fixture I was expecting us to win, even allowing for Newcastle’s defensive woes.
After all, I did arrive on Saturday still half-expecting the likes of Fabricio Coloccini to be in the starting line-up, given the media cat-and-mouse games staged by Premier League managers nowadays.
But clearly Paul Lambert was expecting Newcastle to be weak in defence and he really went for it.
In that respect it was a very similar approach to the victory at Bolton – identifying an opposition defensive weakness and exploiting it.
Two years ago this week Alan Pardew got the better of the City boss when Southampton beat us in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on penalties after we were unable to hold onto a narrow lead for much of the second half.
There were times early on when you thought the same thing could happen against his current club, but this time we finished with a flourish.
Okay, we won’t look too closely at the goals we conceded – I think the idea of more than a freak clean sheet in the Premier League is about as likely as a sustained City cup run.
But the Canaries put on a battling display against opposition who certainly had qualities up front but were not allowed to show them enough.
Saturday was an action-packed encounter in which City fully played their part and – more importantly – appeared right at home in their top-flight surroundings. There have been occasions this season when we have looked second best to some displays of Premier League professionalism, shall we say, but against Newcastle we seemed a lot more sure of ourselves, the occasional major defensive cock-up when faced with in-form strikers such as Demba Ba apart.
I know people were probably saying much the same thing the last but one time we beat Newcastle here on the last day of 1994, and then went on to win only one more game as we slid to a relegation that it took years to get over.
And Burnley or Blackpool fans might also have much the same viewpoint. This time two years ago Burnley were 13th in the table with 18 points from 16 games, while 12 months ago Blackpool were three places higher with four points more from as many fixtures.
But you just sense that on the back of what has been achieved over the past two years that it’s going to take something on the scale of a monumental injury crisis once the transfer window closes for everything to go wrong now.
You have a manager who continues to juggle his pack while seeming to be able to keep his whole squad happy. Everyone knows that they will feature at some point and get the chance to play their part in our survival.
And it shows. Unlike last time we are winning early-season games when it matters. We’ve probably reached our first-half survival target with four games still to play.
If you can win matches like Saturday’s it will go a long way to make up for the inevitable long spells without victories that will come.
In the coming weeks we might surprise the likes of Everton and Fulham or we might not. We are quite capable of going to Wolves or West Brom and repeating the Bolton success, but we might have a couple of off-days and get turned over 4-0 instead in a 2004/5 fashion. Who knows?
But this time around City have a quiet determination to go out and get the job done.
It was best summed up in post-match interviews – the Newcastle manager complaining about his defensive problems, while his opposite number has just got on with his without making any big public fuss.
On the back of Saturday’s result there should be no reason to doubt that City should get the other five or six wins we need to stay up.
• STILL NOT A BIG FAN OF REFEREE ATKINSON
Martin Atkinson has never been one of my favourite referees from the moment I once got to Turf Moor to find that he’d already called the game off.
But that was nothing compared with some of the decisions seen on Saturday – shocking is not the word.
However, it must be said that, from where I sit, in no way was it a corner which led to Wes Hoolahan’s opener. You can only presume that it was an ‘evening up the score‘-type decision from an official who might have felt that he perhaps may have got a thing or two wrong judging by the home crowd’s reaction.
• ANOTHER VICTORY FOR THE OUT OF TOUCH ELITE
I won’t be off to the match at Wolves a week tomorrow.
Like plenty of other people I have other things to do in the week before Christmas rather than journey halfway across England in midweek at a time when the weather might be somewhat less than clement.
I don’t know quite who it was who came up with the idea of a full programme of fixtures four or five days before Christmas, but you would expect nothing less from such a money-grabbing organisation as the Premier League, who are completely out of touch with normal people living in the real world.
But anyway, back to Molineux, or not, in my case.
I note that as “a festive thanks to the Yellow Army” the Canaries are offering free transport to anyone who is off to Wolverhampton.
All fine and good for those who travel the official way.
But anyone who doesn’t, or whose journey doesn’t start or finish in Norwich, will have to make their own way at their own expense.
As a result, some might say that it’s a pretty limited gesture of thanks.
Here’s an idea. Next time the club are so minded, why not just scrap the booking fee for fixtures? Therefore everyone benefits.
Having started with the matches at Ipswich and Portsmouth at the end of last season the idea of booking fees has quickly become a part of the whole buying process, what with nine of this campaign’s first 11 games being subject to an additional £1.50.
When I bought my ticket for Bolton, for face value, in cash, for the record, did I save the club a whole £1.50 by saving them the price of an envelope and postage? Don’t think so, somehow.
Out of that £22 they still had to pay Carrow Road staff, transfer the ticket revenue to the Reebok Stadium and pay any sales commission to the opposition, if such an arrangement exists.
But, hey, it’s the way that football is now going – it’s as much a part of the entertainment business now as any big music-concert venue and you can see the same ticket add-ons steadily creeping in across the board.
If the secure technology was available now you could just imagine some top football clubs dispensing with ticket-office staff, getting fans to print off tickets at home or on to their phones and charging them for the privilege of doing so.
• I can’t be alone in not looking too closely at the Championship fixtures each week now. I always watch out for who our friends down the A140 are facing and there are the teams of various friends and office colleagues as well. But this coming Saturday there is a game which just seven short months ago had an enormous bearing on City’s fortunes, but now could be totally overlooked.
When the result comes in from Cardiff versus Middlesbrough it is going to take me right back to the journey to Portsmouth. I suppose that given the favour that Boro did us that day they deserve to win in South Wales again.