It's not unusual to be ...winning once again

Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Gillingham 0: It was strange day at Carrow Road, when the least unusual thing to happen was Norwich City winning a game of football. We had local servicemen and women from the Royal Anglians, the Light Dragoons and RAF Marham - brilliantly saluted from all four sides of a packed Carrow Road.

Chris Lakey

It was strange day at Carrow Road, when the least unusual thing to happen was Norwich City winning a game of football.

We had local servicemen and women from the Royal Anglians, the Light Dragoons and RAF Marham - brilliantly saluted from all four sides of a packed Carrow Road.

We had a blast or two of Tom Jones, whose appearance on the green, green grass in the summer is perhaps a sign that those in the corridors of power know how to exploit their assets and make a few, valuable, quid.


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We had Grant Holt doing the tidying up as all sorts of inflatables drifted over the pitch.

And we had the football team winning a trophy, for only the seventh time in their 108-year history.

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It's not unusual - but it's not exactly a common occurrence.

Neither will today and tomorrow, when City go head to head with Colchester United at a tribunal which will decide the price of acquiring the services of the man responsible for securing the League One title, Paul Lambert.

The City manager is part of the new wave - in the corridors of power and in the dug-out - which swept over the club last summer. Instead of basing its future on the past, David McNally and the new-look board decided to base it on the present.

McNally knew Lambert from their time together at Celtic, and was perfectly happy to leave him in charge of playing matters, while he set about studying the books.

Neither job is finished.

Lambert has to build a team fit for the Championship - McNally has to find the funds to enable him to do it. After all, while the jump from League One back to the second tier of English football is a significant one given that an extended stay in League One can lead to unwanted residential rights, it's the next step that is not just the hardest, but the most beneficial.

The rainbow ends in Manchester, not Middlesbrough and if City get there any time soon, then my, my, my, Delia, you've done well. At least Lambert has a quick answer to anyone who dare suggest City were always likely to bounce straight back: ask Leeds, who have made a habit of outstaying their welcome and are putting their supporters through the ringer yet again; ask Charlton, who came down with City and would count themselves as big a club as City; ask Southampton, who only prevented City from hitting bottom spot on the opening day because they started with 10 points wiped out of their tally - bags of money in January couldn't make that up and if they struggle next season you wonder which direction Saints may go.

It wasn't an easy League One to get out of: big name rivals ensured that, while at the same time guaranteeing that the rather more unfashionable clubs were able to set their sights higher. Tranmere beat City on Good Friday and then lost four of their next six games.

Even before City hit the top for good, they've been a target, but the ability to overcome that pressure is one of the reasons why they will finish on top.

What City have been able to do is stand toe to toe with opponents, watch them run out of steam, and then go in for the kill.

Huddersfield came to Carrow Road and looked tremendous for half an hour: they couldn't score and City went to Town, as it were.

Some last longer than others; Southend made it to the final 12 minuets and had a goal start. But they still lost.

On Saturday, it was Gillingham's turn. Perhaps they fancied their chances at ruining the party. After a lacklustre both half only Chris Martin, with a right-footed free-kick and then a left-footed grass-cutter that skipped past the far post, looked remotely like troubling the keeper.

With City struggling to keep possession and leaving Martin and Grant holt frustrated up front, Lambert decided to change things around: with Adam Drury and Simon Lappin rested the left side had a different look about it, but Anthony McNamee rather wasted his opportunity to shine and didn't come out for the second half, with Stephen Elliott joining Holt in attack and Martin slotting in just behind.

But it was Gillingham who decided it was time to have a go. Dennis Oli and Rene Howe woke up and started causing problems. Oli twice had Fraser Forster stretching - prompting chants of, "Fraser Forster, one more year, stay at Norwich" - and the excellent Michael Nelson was at full stretch to keep the door shut.

Gillingham's light flickered, but within 20 minutes they'd burnt themselves out. City were by no means running smoothly, and with Leeds on their way to victory over MK Dons you rather thought the point they needed for the title was to be all they got.

And then, just when you least expected it, up popped Darel Russell. Elliott won possession, Russell picked up the loose ball, looked up and curled a shot into the top corner, the balling coming off the underside of the bar and behind the line before bouncing out. It was a gem of a goal, which deserved to be the match winner.

That it wasn't doesn't diminish its quality - that it was City's first effort on target in 74 minutes of football tells part of the story.

But it was enough to end Gillingham's resistance for good. City came out of their shells, they played with confidence, without nerves - with a touch of quality.

You didn't really fancy Gillingham to get back into it, even less to earn their first away win of the season, but if they had any bright ideas then Nelson ended them on 82 minutes when he headed home from Simon Lappin's corner.

Nelson is the man whose goal secured promotion at Charlton seven days earlier and no one will deny him his moment in the spotlight as he secured the win that secured the title. The affable Geordie was pilloried early in the season, but when Lambert asked him to do a job, he did it. Not a lot gets past him - and you can't ask for much more from a centre-half.

Two more games, against teams with nothing to fight for - but you doubt there will be any let-up. It's not the way Norwich City do things. Not nowadays.

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