Lambert's timing is spot on again
David Cuffley Walsall 1, Norwich City 2: If making the right substitutions at the right time is regarded as a fine art, then Paul Lambert may soon win admission to the Norwich School itself. For the third game in a row, changes made from the bench played a significant part in securing three vital points for the Canaries as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Walsall last night.
If making the right substitutions at the right time is regarded as a fine art, then Paul Lambert may soon win admission to the Norwich School itself.
For the third game in a row, changes made from the bench played a significant part in securing three vital points for the Canaries as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Walsall last night.
The introduction of livewire forward Anthony McNamee and little-used striker Cody McDonald with a quarter of the match remaining at the Banks's Stadium - and City trailing 1-0 - gave just the necessary edge to a second-half fightback that ultimately brought the leaders their seventh successive win and stretched their unbeaten run to 15 matches.
It is an achievement that has changed the landscape of League One over the past few weeks.
Eleven days ago, manager Lambert introduced new signing Oli Johnson at Colchester and he swiftly conjured up his first goal for the club to finally put the match out of United's.
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Then, with City reduced to 10 men against Brentford on Saturday, Zak Whitbread was successfully grafted on to a reshaped defence at half-time before another cameo appeareance from Johnson, who set up the winning goal for Chris Martin.
Last night, McNamee's efforts earned the corner from which Martin equalised with his 18th goal of the season - before McDonald struck the winner five minutes from time.
There have been other examples of tactical excellence in the technical area as City have made the most of having seven substitutes to choose from.
Earlier in the season, midfielder Stephen Hughes came off the bench to grab a vital equaliser at Southampton and he also produced a polished 45 minutes against Huddersfield to help transform a match in which City were struggling into a 3-0 home win.
Go back a few weeks further and strikers Martin and Jamie Cureton both came off the bench to score as Leyton Orient were swept away by four goals in the final 15 minutes at Carrow Road.
This knack of making changes at just the right moment is a welcome departure from years of City managers sending on three players in the last five minutes - either to blatantly waste time, or when it is plainly been too late to save the day.
But it had begun to look as if City's proud unbeaten run may come to an end against the Saddlers in a game that finally went ahead at the third attempt. The fixture, postponed previously because of a frozen pitch, then heavy snow, was eventually played on a surface that cut up badly even in the pre-match warm-ups and which was heavily sanded down the flanks.
But at least the braziers were nowhere to be seen.
After a quiet opening, there had not been a dangerous attempt on goal before City were forced into a reshuffle with full-back Adam Drury departing because of a thigh problem in the 16th minute. Simon Lappin dropped to left-back while Hughes came into midfield.
Johnson, given his first start for the suspended Grant Holt, was close to making the breakthrough midway through the first half when he beat 'keeper Clayton Ince to Wes Hoolahan's through-ball and chipped goalwards, but full-back Jamie Vincent was able to get back and clear.
Mark Bradley and Darren Byfield both fired wide as Walsall became more adventurous, and then the Canaries went a goal down 10 minutes before half-time.
Troy Deeney got away from Michael Nelson as he pursued Byfield's through-ball and although his progress was almost halted, the ball held up in the heavy goalmouth just enough for Deeney to slide it home from a tight angle.
Russell Martin, Chris Martin and Hughes all missed the target by varying degrees as the Canaries came out more purposefully in the second half, but the tempo increased after Lambert made his double change after 66 minutes.
Even then, Walsall twice threatened to wrap the game up as Hughes headed off the line from Clayton McDonald and goalkeeper Fraser Forster diverted a dangerous effort from Jamie Vincent that threatened to creep under the bar.
The hosts were left to regret those near misses when, 13 minutes from time - the same point at which he struck against Brentford three days earlier - Chris Martin put City on terms.
The Canaries' 10th corner of the night did the trick as Ince failed to gather Hoolahan's flag-kick and Martin swivelled to fire home, left-footed, from close range.
Sensing victory, City turned up the heat. Hoolahan's next corner almost caught out Ince when it bounced on top of the crossbar.
McNamee then found Darel Russell 20 yards out, whose thunderous effort was tipped over by the backpedalling 'keeper.
With five minutes left, however, McDonald grabbed the winner. Hoolahan floated a dangerous ball towards the penalty spot and the substitute met it with a neat right-foot volley that flew in off the post.
Forster saved again from Byfield in five minutes of stoppage time to preserve City's lead, before news of Leeds United's 3-0 defeat at Swindon sent 1,365 travelling fans home doubly happy.
With 60 points on the board and still one match to go in January - Saturday's visit of Hartlepool - the Canaries have given themselves a golden opportunity to regain Championship status at the first attempt. The evidence of the past seven matches suggests they are more than capable of doing so.