Elusive striker was at Norwich City all along

NORWICH CITY 3, DERBY COUNTY 2: For weeks leading up to the loan deadline in March, the debate on the message boards and in our weekly question and answer sessions was dominated by one subject.

Which striker, preferably a big name, should Norwich City bring in to add the additional firepower needed to “push them over the line” in their bid for a second successive promotion and a return to the Premier League?

What would happen if, heaven forbid, skipper Grant Holt suffered an injury – indeed, he has, though he has battled on manfully in spite of it – with Chris Martin on the sidelines from mid-February and two of the Canaries’ strikers out on loan in the lower divisions?

The fact is, on the evidence of his unforgettable April, the man they needed has been here all the time.

If Paul Lambert’s men can book a top-flight place by winning their final two Championship matches – and they may still need to win at Portsmouth and at home to Coventry to do so – Simeon Jackson’s return to the front line in the closing weeks of the campaign will certainly have been a major factor.

After more than five months without a senior goal, Jackson has now scored eight times in six matches, only three of which he started, to become indisputably City’s man of the moment.

He secured his second hat-trick in three home games to see off doughty Derby County at Carrow Road yesterday and though he may not have known too much about the winner, which came after five minutes of stoppage time, he was once again in the right place at the right time as Alberto Bueno’s goalline clearance rebounded off him into the net.

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It was a goal that sparked euphoric scenes on and off the pitch – and Jackson had earned his slice of good fortune with an irrepressible display, including superb goals that twice gave City the lead.

If the overall quality of the contest on a warm Easter Monday afternoon did not quite match that of the battle played out in sub-zero temperatures at Pride Park in December, the closing stages were much more gripping.

Lambert may or may not have been aware that third-placed Cardiff were poised to collect three points at Deepdale – and relegate Preston in the process –but with the score at 2-2, City threw everything at the Rams in their determination to hang on to second spot in the table with two games remaining.

But even those who have become accustomed to their side’s late goalscoring exploits on home territory this season, as far back as the Swansea game in August and including the victories over Millwall, Reading and Bristol City, could barely have believed they would deliver the points yet again in such stirring fashion.

There was little in the first half to suggest we were in for another of those breathtaking finishes. Though City held the advantage territorially, there were few clear opportunities before Jackson struck on the stroke of half-time.

Tellingly, though, it was the Canadian who provided most of the spark, even if his first attempt on goal in the seventh minute flew high and wide after he beat Shaun Barker to an awkward bounce from Zak Whitbread’s ball.

Andrew Crofts met Marc Tierney’s cross with a diving header that goalkeeper Brad Jones did well to save, but Holt was adjudged offside as he went for the rebound, tumbling over the ’keeper in the process.

Andrew Surman’s pass set up Jackson for a shot from a tight angle that was pushed over by Jones, then the striker hassled Daniel Ayala into poking the ball dangerously across his own goal.

David Fox brought Jones into action again with a volley after Jackson had chested back Wes Hoolahan’s cross, while Stephen Pearson and Steve Davies spoiled good approach work with tame shooting as the Rams replied.

In the final minute of the half, however, Holt’s quickly-taken throw-in dropped behind John Brayford and Tierney’s cross reached the near post, where Jackson got ahead of Gareth Roberts to plant a firm header past Jones.

Derby looked more purposeful after the break but their 54th-minute leveller still came rather out of the blue. Bueno, the Rams’ best performer, swung in a cross, right-footed, from the left side and Davies scored with a well-placed header.

On the hour, however, after substitute Rob Edwards had replaced the injured Whitbread, City regained the lead with a superb goal from Jackson.

Holt played Surman’s short pass back into the path of his fellow striker and Jackson, just outside the Derby area, curled a delightful first-time shot over Jones – a goal that was greeted with a tumultuous roar.

Within three minutes, the Rams were level again as Bueno created enough space to strike a low left-foot shot to the left of Ruddy and just inside the post.

Twice in quick succession City were close to restoring their advantage. First defender Edwards met Surman’s inswinging corner with a superb header that Jones somehow clawed away on the goalline, then fellow substitute Henri Lansbury struck a low drive that forced Jones to dive to his right to push the ball past the post.

The game became bad-tempered, not helped by some odd refereeing in the second period, and Derby skipper Robbie Savage, enjoying his role as the villain of the piece, was booked for blatantly grabbing substitute Dani Pacheco’s shirt.

Jackson was for once unable to keep control as he chased Elliott Ward’s through-ball and there were a few anxious moments at the other end as Derby looked to catch the Canaries on the break.

A storming run by Russell Martin ended when he took the ball just too far but City swept forward again, urged on by the crowd as five minutes of stoppage time were announced, and in their penultimate raid, Russell Martin’s cross was plucked out of the air by Jones.

The final chance seemed to have gone, but Jackson, inevitably, earned one last corner with a shot that was deflected wide by Brayford. As the clock ticked past five extra minutes, Lansbury’s kick was met with the faintest of flicks by Hoolahan and reached Russell Martin on the far side of the area, the full-back drilling in a low shot that was blocked on the line by Bueno, but rebounded home off Jackson to spark more wild celebrations.