Canaries sing songs of collective praise

Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Millwall 0: Half a century of goals achieved at the halfway mark of the season. But no half measures. City have a striker who has hit 20 of them, a young assistant who is in double figures and an attacking midfielder whose 13 goals in all competitions and general all-round wizardry have manager after manager jealously admiring his influence on games.

Chris Lakey

Half a century of goals achieved at the halfway mark of the season.

But no half measures.

City have a striker who has hit 20 of them, a young assistant who is in double figures and an attacking midfielder whose 13 goals in all competitions and general all-round wizardry have manager after manager jealously admiring his influence on games.


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Grant Holt, Chris Martin and Wes Hoolahan are a holy trinity whose attacking prowess could be the difference between not just going up or staying down, but between going up automatically or having to go through the play-off system.

The three musketeers are the fulcrum of a Norwich City side which has now won eight league games in a row at home and scored more goals than anyone else in the country.

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But what impresses is their reluctance to accept anything but their fair share of the praise.

All for one and one for all, and all that. Ask one of them how well they think they're playing and they will immediately begin to praise someone else.

Hoolahan's magic spells were still fresh in the memory on Saturday when he began praising the back four for their resolute defending against Millwall's early advances.

Then there was Simon Lappin, a player for whom Hoolahan reserved praise for doing all the spadework before letting him take over in that vital final third which he controls so effectively.

Holt says it's a team thing, Martin says the same. They're singing from the same hymnsheet, which makes a change.

Take the opening 20 minutes on Saturday, when City had to close ranks to keep out the Lions. It wasn't easy: they had the sun in their eyes and an unfamiliar back four line-up which, although they'd worked together on the training fields, had to do it in front of the biggest crowd of the season who expect nothing but a win nowadays.

It was tough going: Millwall are quick on the ball and strong without it, and with five strung across the middle they attack in numbers.

But, just like seven days earlier when Huddersfield came out of the traps quickly, Millwall couldn't take advantage. To miss opportunities at Carrow Road these days is an error of major proportions, because you will get punished.

A couple of little incidents perhaps changed the game: Holt had a goal disallowed for offside and then Hoolahan had a shot well saved by David Forde.

City began to make inroads and have a say in proceedings: and Millwall realised they were no match. They'd had their 20 minutes, they'd played out of their skins, but they couldn't sustain it, and City, having drawn the sting, then went for the kill.

Having come close twice, they struck at the third attempt, Hoolahan turning in Jon Otsemobor's low cross from the right with a deft touch.

Otsemobor almost let in Steve Morison for a run on Fraser Forster's goal with a sloppy pass on halfway, but Russell Martin chased him down, refused to commit himself to a dangerous tackle in the area and waited for the chance to nick it away.

If you heard a noise it was possibly that of heads dropping, because after that Millwall rarely troubled Forster.

Either that or it was Holt berating the referee, Graham Salisbury, for some indifferent officiating.

Holt lives by the sword and dies by it, but he's a canny player who knows how to win a foul. His battle with Tony Craig, wearing a Phantom of the Opera face mask for protection, was terrific: real, old-fashioned English football, if you want a clich�.

Mr Salisbury let it go too far too often, but when there are at least four flare-ups between players you do expect him to have a word. But he didn't and he was fortunate on more than one occasion that players didn't take it any further than the usual handbags.

City finished the half a lot better than they'd started it, and although Millwall got a second wind at the start of the second it may just have been because Darel Russell hadn't re-appeared and Stephen Hughes was clearly showing signs of fatigue.

But their enthusiasm for taking the game to City didn't last too long and on 68 minutes it was game over.

Martin was freed down the left channel and slipped the ball right to Hoolahan, who had made a parallel run. Hoolahan took a couple of steps into the area and was well within his rights to either shoot or chip the keeper. In the split second it takes to make the decision, he saw Holt in the area to his right - and then the third option came into play.

Hoolahan decided to be unselfish and clipped the ball on to Holt's head: it couldn't have been more perfect. It couldn't have been more definite: game over.

Nelson had time to have an effort disallowed for offside as City coasted to victory.

The centre half was another who deserved something more tangible from the game: he and Russell Martin were excellent, particularly after the break.

Whether they will be asked for a repeat at Walsall this afternoon is debatable: manager Paul Lambert is likely to revert to his usual line-up with Gary Doherty returning from suspension, Martin returning to right back and Otsemobor dropped.

Tried and trusted: just like the rest of his team, just like his tactics, just like everything about City at the moment.

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