A very happy New Year as Pilks and Morison punish 10-man QPR

The games come thick and fast at this time of year. After the excitement of last week’s match against Spurs, this week the Canaries continued their series of jousts with teams from the capital by drawing 1-1 at home with Fulham and winning 2-1 away at QPR.

The relentless pace of games in the Premier League over the holiday period meant that Lambert had to ring the changes to keep players fresh and fit. Naughton, Johnson, and Pilkington were recalled for the Fulham game, and Ayala made a welcome return to the side after a long absence due to injury. De Laet and Drury were rested while Holt and Crofts began on the bench. Norwich were disappointing during the first half and Fulham deservedly led at the break thanks to a spectacular goal from Sa.

But the second half was a different story. Holt appeared instead of Fox at half-time and Jackson replaced Morison with 20 minutes to go. Norwich seized the initiative and started to pressurise the Fulham defence. Bennett replaced Pilkington with only 10 minutes left and a series of crosses began to pepper the Fulham goal. Five minutes injury time had already been played when that pressure paid off. Martin won the ball in the corner and passed to Bennett, whose cross was headed in by Jackson. At the last gasp City had rescued a fully merited point. Some Norwich supporters may have felt disappointed at the loss of two points at home against a Fulham team who do not travel well, but I saw it as a point gained against a good Fulham side who are well established in the Premier League and reached the Europa League final last season.

Clearly they are no mugs, and our point was both dramatic and a fair reward for our effort. Remember Fulham drew at Chelsea in their previous game. The Lilywhites may have been missing Schwarzer, Johnson, and Zamora, but they still had a strong line up including the dangerous Dempsey, ex Ipswich loan keeper Stockdale, and ex Canary Dickson Etuhu.

And so with barely a pause to raise a glass to welcome in the New Year, to be grateful that Jackson likes to score important goals very late in the game, and to reflect that 2011 was a great year for the Canaries, it was time to head to Loftus Road for the return fixture with QPR.

Again Lambert changed the lineup. Holt, Jackson, Drury and Bennett all started, as did Lappin for the first time this season. Pilkington was prominent as City dominated the first ten minutes, but QPR took the lead in the eleventh minute with a great finish by Barton after a good cross from Hill beat Whitbread.

Play then ebbed and flowed in both directions, but nine minutes before half time goalscorer Barton was sent off for headbutting Johnson, after clashing with both Whitbread and the Norwich number four. The sending off led to angry recriminations amongst the players as the referee consulted the linesman before producing the red card. Even with the benefit of seeing the TV replays it was unclear as to whether Barton had injured Johnson or simply thrust his mug into Johnson’s face.

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To his credit Johnson did not fall over or make a meal of the incident. And whatever the intent, Barton’s action was not a good example to set before his newly born son. More importantly, QPR had to play the remainder of the game with ten men, and City were level three minutes before half-time when Pilkington scored with a superb shot from outside the area.

The second half was full of incident. Rangers brought on Wright-Phillips, whose mazy runs looked dangerous every time he received the ball. Ruddy made an excellent save from Taarabt’s free kick conceded by Ayala who was also booked. I wondered whether City would settle for the point, but Lambert had other ideas, sending on Fox, Morison and Hoolahan for Drury, Lappin and Holt.

The Canaries were now playing an attacking lineup with only three at the back and four attackers. Their positive approach duly paid off with a mere seven minutes remaining when Pilkington’s cross from the left was knocked back into the box by Bennett at the far post for Morison to slot home. Cue delirium amongst the 3,000 City fans packed into the School End of the ground.

Well played the Canaries, especially Morison, Pilkington, and Ayala. And a very happy Hogmanay to Mr Lambert whose substitution was inspired and whose instinct that City could win all three points was fully justified by the result.

After the match the talk was mostly about Joey Barton. Mr Warnock was his usual graceless self, blaming QPR’s defeat on being “mugged”, “conned” and muttering darkly about “acting” and “cheats never prosper”.

So Norwich sit proudly in ninth position in the Premier League and unlike the unmentionables over the border in Suffolk have won all their games so far this year. I wonder what sort of side Lambert will put out for the FA Cup game with Burnley, and what comings and goings there will be in the January transfer window? A Happy New Year to Canary fans everywhere. Let us hope 2012 is as interesting, enjoyable and successful for us as 2011 was.