Canaries turn up heat as rivals are left in the cold
David Cuffley Norwich City 3, Exeter City 1: According to one of the great novelists, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive. The Exeter City squad and management team might have been inclined to agree as they left Carrow Road after their ninth defeat in 13 away games, though given the hazardous nature of their 300-mile plus trek to Norwich on Friday it may be that neither the journey nor the match itself will be all that fondly remembered in deepest Devon.
According to one of the great novelists, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
The Exeter City squad and management team might have been inclined to agree as they left Carrow Road after their ninth defeat in 13 away games, though given the hazardous nature of their 300-mile plus trek to Norwich on Friday it may be that neither the journey nor the match itself will be all that fondly remembered in deepest Devon.
Still, had the Grecians heeded the travel warnings of Norfolk police rather than the advice of the Football League, their League One meeting with the second-placed Canaries may not have gone ahead at all, so all of a yellow and green persuasion should be grateful for their dedication to duty.
With City doggedly determined to get the game on despite the severe weather that wiped out most of Saturday's English football programme, Paul Lambert's team took advantage of the undersoil heating and a blank day for all but four of the division's teams to strengthen their position with a ninth successive home victory, just one short of the club's best run of 10 wins in a row on home soil in 1985-86.
Though they seldom hit the heights of previous wins in front of their own fans, City were sufficiently dominant - apart from a short spell in each half - for one to feel they were always likely to collect three points.
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The stadium was unusually quiet for parts of the afternoon, whether through chattering teeth or the feeling of security that such a winning sequence breeds, and even the opening goal was greeted with slightly muted, delayed celebrations.
It took less than eight minutes for the Canaries to go ahead when skipper Grant Holt justified odds as short as 3-1 to score the first goal. Wes Hoolahan was the architect, crossing left-footed from the right flank, Holt drifting away from defender Richard Duffy at the far post to plant a firm header past goalkeeper Paul Jones.
Jones went on to make a string of useful saves but his City counterpart, Fraser Forster, was by no means redundant.
There was an escape for City in the 20th minute when Forster had to dive forward to foil Exeter's Stuart Fleetwood after Scott Golbourne split the home defence.
Jones saved Michael Nelson's header from a Simon Lappin corner and, with 37 minutes gone, did even better to tip Adam Drury's powerful shot over the top after a flowing move involving Korey Smith, Holt and Hoolahan.
Nelson went close again when he headed over from another Lappin corner, but before the interval, Exeter issued a warning to their hosts with an attacking flurry that almost produced the equaliser.
Ryan Harley was just off target with a low drive that crept through the home defence, Forster was in just the right place to block Alex Russell's header from a Golbourne cross, and Russell Martin kept out a goalbound effort from Steve Tully by clearing from a yard in front of the goalline.
The lively Golbourne tested Forster again in first-half stoppage time but after a quiet start to the second period, Chris Martin almost made it 2-0 to City when his curling effort was well saved by Jones, grabbing the ball at the second attempt.
A triple substitution gave Exeter fresh momentum and Liam Sercombe almost made an immediate impact with a swerving volley that flew just wide, followed moments later by a vicious low drive that Forster pushed round the post.
The home crowd voiced their concern that the Canaries had lost momentum after French midfielder Berti Cozic was just off target with a left-foot shot.
But relief came after 77 minutes when Chris Martin tucked away his 14th goal of the season. Hoolahan fed Lappin on the left and his cross to the far post was knocked back by Holt for Martin to score from close range.
Veteran former Ipswich striker Marcus Stewart reduced the arrears three minutes later when Forster was unable to hold fellow substitute Sercombe's long-range effort and he coolly tucked in the rebound.
This City side, however, has a knack of conjuring up a goal just when they need it, as they demonstrated against Yeovil, Millwall and Wycombe. And it took just two minutes for Holt to restore their two-goal advantage with a cool finish from a superb Hoolahan through-ball.
There was just time for a splendid cameo appearance from new signing Oli Johnson who, coming on as a substitute for Hoolahan, almost scored a superb solo goal with a jinking run and curling right-foot shot that just cleared the angle of post and bar.
As news of the result from Elland Road filtered through, it completed a very satisfying day for City and their newly-crowned manager of the month.
And for home supporters, who would certainly have travelled hopefully, the journey was certainly well worthwhile.