Charlton Athletic 0, Norwich City 1
David Cuffley SLIDESHOW: Norwich City clinched promotion back to the Championship when Michael Nelson's first-half goal gave them victory over Charlton Athletic.
Norwich City clinched promotion back to the Championship when Michael Nelson's first-half goal gave them victory over Charlton Athletic.
For more than 3,000 ecstastic travelling fans, The Valley was the perfect place to secure their return ticket to the second tier of English football - the same ground where they were relegated in such humiliating fashion 11 months earlier.
Nelson scored the vital goal in this League One promotion battle after 34 minutes when he headed home powerfully from Simon Lappin's corner. Earlier, Stephen Hughes had a goal disallowed.
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City came under heavy pressure in the second half but goalkeeper Fraser Forster made some exceptional saves and the defence held firm.
With Swindon held to a 1-1 draw by Walsall and Millwall beaten on Friday night, victory guaranteed the Canaries promotion at the first time of asking.
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Leeds' 3-2 defeat at Gillingham also virtually guaranteed the League One title for City, who need just one point from the final three games to make absolutely certain of the trophy.
City boss Paul Lambert, without the services of suspended skipper Grant Holt and deprived of Wes Hoolahan for the fourth match in a row by a thigh injury, made two changes to the side beaten 2-1 by Leyton Orient on Tuesday.
Midfielder Korey Smith was ruled out by an ankle injury, while on-loan striker Stephen Elliott was relegated to the substitutes' bench.
Into the starting line-up came Stephen Hughes and Michael Spillane, making his first start since the home game against Bristol Rovers on October 3.
Paul McVeigh was recalled to the bench.
Charlton boss Phil Parkinson named an unchanged side after Tuesday's 1-0 win over Colchester, but welcomed back striker Deon Burton to the substitutes' bench after a knee injury. Burton scored a hat-trick in Charlton's 4-2 Championship win against City on the final day of last season, and was also on target in the 2-2 draw at Carrow Road in September.
The ground was bathed in sunshine and Charlton forced the first corner inside a minute, but City dealt with it comfortably.
It quickly became apparent that Spillane was playing at right-back with Russell Martin pushed forward into the right midfield role in a 4-4-2 formation.
Home 'keeper Randolph was living dangerously in the third minute when he tried to dribble in his own penalty area and was almost dispossessed by Johnson.
At the other end, Nelson had to clear from Nicky Forster's low cross as Charlton broke quickly on the left.
Charlton forced a second corner after 17 minutes, but Borrowdale's kick was straight into Fraser Forster's hands.
A foul by Nelson gave Charlton a free-kick on the edge of the City area, but when the ball was backheeled to Borrowdale, he blazed high over the bar.
The best opening so far came in the 21st minute when Bailey was sent clear on the left but his low effort was turned away by the diving Forster, although it may in any case have been going wide.
Hughes had the ball in the net for City in the 23rd minute but the cheers of 3,000 travelling fans were short-lived when the goal was disallowed. Johnson showed good control before finding Lappin on the left, and the midfielder's cross was met with a fine glancing near-post header by Hughes past Randolph, but referee Hall disallowed the effort.
Chris Martin had a low drive blocked as City began to pick up the pace, roared on by fans who knew that rivals Leeds were already three goals down at Gillingham.
Lappin was very close to his first goal of the season with a left-foot shot that Randolph dived to his left to keep out. But from the resulting corner, the Canaries took the lead with a 34th-minute goal from centre-half Nelson.
Lappin swung the flag-kick towards the far post and Nelson rose highest to score his second of the season with a firm header.
Two minutes later, there was a scare for City when Lappin's square pass went straight to Bailey and the Charlton skipper curled a right-foot shot just wide as Forster dived to his left.
Drury was shown the yellow card five minutes before the break after a challenge on Bailey, though the Charlton man seemed to make a meal of it.
Charlton made a change just before the break when Burton replaced Akpo Sodje.
Forster made an excellent save to keep City on terms in the final minute of the half when he dived to his left to keep out Bailey's volley.
t Half-time: Charlton Athletic 0, Norwich City 1
Nelson made an important clearance three minutes after the break, cutting out Semedo's cross at the expense of a corner. The flag-kick was cleared but Racon missed a shooting chance on the edge of the area when he completely missed his kick.
Forster made a brilliant save four minutes after the break when he dived to his right to palm away a header from Burton that looked certain to be the equaliser.
Hughes was shown the yellow card on the hour for a foul on Sam that gave Charlton a free-kick five yards outside the area. Bailey curled in a right-foot shot that Forster beat away to his left.
A long throw from Richardson posed problems but Semedo missed his header and City breathed again.
Forster saved again when a shot from Racon took a deflection but bobbled through to him.
Burton was next to bring Forster into action with a close-range volley but it was straight at the 'keeper.
Lambert made his first change in the 64th minute when defender Rose replaced Johnson and took up a wide left role in front of Drury with Lappin tucking inside and Hughes playing a more advanced role.
The Canaries were under constant pressure and Drury made two important interceptions, blocking one shot and then clearing with a diving header.
Forster was in the right place again to make a juggling save from his namesake as Charlton threatened again.
Goalkeeper Forster then palmed a teasing cross from striker Forster over the bar, to the Charlton man's frustration.
The home side made a second change after 72 minutes when Reid replaced Semedo.
Forster became the third City player booked, for time wasting, with 13 minutes to go.
Lappin made a vital tackle on Racon to break up one attack and, with seven minutes left, the hosts replaced skipper Bailey with Shelvey.
With three minutes left, Stephen Elliott replaced Chris Martin for City.
Five minutes of time added on were signalled as the game reached the 90-minute mark, but the chorus of “On the Ball, City” was already ringing round The Valley.
Spillane was booked in stoppage time - but the celebrations were soon under way.
t Result: Charlton Athletic 0, Norwich City 1
t Charlton Athletic: Randolph; Richardson, Sam Sodje, Dailly, Borrowdale; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Bailey; Akpo Sodje, Nicky Forster.
Subs: Rob Elliott, Llera, Wagstaff, Reid (for Semedo, 72), Shelvey (for Bailey, 83), Solly, Burton (for Akpo Sodje, 44).
t Norwich City: Fraser Forster; Spillane, Doherty, Nelson, Drury; Russell Martin, Hughes, Russell, Lappin; Johnson, Chris Martin.
Subs: Rudd, Gill, McNamee, Rose (for Johnson, 64), McVeigh, McDonald, Stephen Elliott (for Chris Martin, 87).
t Referee: Andy Hall (West Midlands)
t Attendance: 20,023
t Goals: Norwich: Nelson (34)
t Bookings: Norwich: Drury (40), Hughes (60), Forster (77), Spillane (90)