It’s one over the eight for Norwich City
NORWICH CITY 2, MILLWALL 1: Norwich City’s reputation for scoring late, late goals is well established, but even they were sailing close to the wind in their Championship match against Millwall.
The minimum three additional minutes signalled by the fourth official had already been played and the Canaries – seemingly heading for their third 1-1 draw in five league games – were living on borrowed time when defender Elliott Ward knocked a long ball forward, substitute Aaron Wilbraham won a vital header and skipper Grant Holt flicked the ball up as if to swivel and shoot, only for 20-year-old midfielder Henri Lansbury to get there first and poke a shot past Lions ’keeper David Forde to secure a dramatic 2-1 victory.
It was the seventh Championship goal scored by City this season officially timed at 90 minutes – either in the final minute itself or in time added on. Add a couple of Carling Cup goals scored in stoppage time and it was one over the eight. Not surprisingly, the celebrations were soon in full swing at Carrow Road.
Lansbury’s goal, his first in seven appearances on loan from Arsenal, kept Paul Lambert’s team in the second automatic promotion spot but when they were trailing 1-0 with less than a quarter of an hour left, they were effectively slipping into fifth place in the table, so tight is the chasing pack behind leaders Queens Park Rangers.
Full-back Russell Martin had left it late with his last-minute equaliser against Cardiff in the previous home game, but Lansbury was like a young man leaping on the back of the train as it pulled out of the station.
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It was rough justice on Millwall, whose efforts probably merited a point, but Lambert, accustomed to his players’ injury-time exploits, said afterwards he had never given up on snatching victory.
“They’ve got a great desire to win games, the lads, and it’s all credit to them,” he said. “I always have a belief they’re going to score because of the way they play the game and I see it every day in training and in every match these lads play.”
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Lambert made four changes from the team that started the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday. There were recalls for Ward, who had missed six matches, Simon Lappin and Simeon Jackson with Zak Whitbread, Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin relegated to the substitutes’ bench, while Marc Tierney made his first home appearance at left-back in place of Adam Drury, ruled out by a thigh injury and a heavy cold.
City began brightly enough and Lappin had two reasonable chances to score his first goal for the club for well over three years.
In the ninth minute, Andrew Crofts crossed from the right, but Lappin sent a first-time shot, on his weaker right foot, over the top.
Then, after Millwall top scorer Steve Morison had volleyed narrowly over, another centre from Crofts fell to Lappin but his left-foot shot went high over the bar.
Crofts then set up Jackson with a slide rule pass and the Canadian got the better of Darren Purse but he was denied his first goal since October when his shot was saved by the legs of Forde.
Morison’s exit with a hamstring injury after 15 minutes might have been a major blow to Millwall, but substitute Theo Robinson more than filled the void.
Midway through the half, Robinson very nearly opened the scoring with a long-range effort that was dipping under the bar before goalkeeper John Ruddy leapt to tip it over.
From the resulting corner, Ward was perilously close to scoring an own goal when he sliced his attempted clearance only just over the bar.
There was a half-chance for Millwall to take an interval lead when Scott Barron’s inswinging corner reached Purse, but from an awkward angle, he fired high and wide.
There were angry exchanges in the fourth minute of the second half when Jackson chased Holt’s pass and went tumbling on the byline as ’keeper Forde challenged. City appealed for a penalty but Jackson was shown the yellow card for simulation, although he appeared merely to slip over.
Tierney made an important block from James Henry’s shot as Millwall hit back but it was a warning and in the 56th minute, City were caught cold by a counter-attack as Robinson opened the scoring.
Liam Trotter found Henry on the right and the former City loan winger’s cross was perfect for Robinson, arriving in the six-yard box, to knock home via a touch from Ruddy.
Lambert reacted by making a triple change, replacing Lappin, Jackson and Fox with Anthony McNamee, Wilbraham and Hoolahan.
Purse blocked a volley from Holt after some tricky footwork by Hoolahan as City tried to get on terms.
Then, with 65 minutes gone, Henry almost made it 2-0 when good work by Barron set him up for a shot on the turn that was deflected wide off Tierney.
The turning point came, however, with 13 minutes left. Full-back Jack Smith was perhaps harshly penalised – then booked – for a foul on Holt and it led to City’s equaliser, Ward scoring his first goal for the club.
Lansbury curled the free-kick, from five yards outside the area, against the foot of the post with Forde beaten and as the loose ball rocketed across the six-yard box, Ward sidefooted home from a tight angle.
The stage was set for the Arsenal youngster to produce that dramatic finish and spark delirium inside Carrow Road by snatching a victory that looked unlikely for much of the second half. City’s disappointingly blank day on the transfer front was suddenly forgotten. With just one defeat in 15 Championship games, it seems with this team anything is possible.