Martin moves Norwich City closer to target
David Cuffley Norwich City 1, leeds United 0: Those of a nervous disposition are advised to look away now. The cold mathematical fact, as the League One table stands this morning, is that leaders Norwich City still need 14 points to be absolutely certain of promotion.
Those of a nervous disposition are advised to look away now.
The cold mathematical fact, as the League One table stands this morning, is that leaders Norwich City still need 14 points to be absolutely certain of promotion.
If Leeds United and Millwall, in second and third place and separated by just one goal on goal difference, win each of their eight remaining games, they will both finish the season with 95 points. And if they score a hatful of goals in the process, the Canaries just might need that extra point. And if . . . but enough of this statistical fantasy.
To all but the ultra-cautious and ultra-pessimistic, City already have one foot and one big toe in the Championship after disposing of the one side who might just have threatened to keep them within striking distance and prolong the agony for a few more weeks.
Even manager Paul Lambert, ever reluctant to use the P-word until his team is absolutely certain of a top two place, appeared to be struggling just slightly to keep a smile off his face as he talked about “giving ourselves a little bit of a chance” of going up.
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His absolute determination not to allow the merest hint of complacency to creep in during the closing weeks of the season is to be applauded, and is one of the reasons why there has been no slacking in the City camp since they took over top spot with a 1-0 home win against Brentford in January.
But Lambert must know that with an 11-point lead and just eight matches to go, three more wins - maybe even two - will put his side beyond the reach of the chasing pack. Promotion and the League One title could even be wrapped up on the same day.
Victory over Leeds at Carrow Road, thanks to substitute Chris Martin's magnificent 89th-minute goal, his 21st of the season, was fitting revenge for losing to a stoppage-time goal by Jermaine Beckford when the two sides met in October, though Saturday's war of attrition was a scrappy sequel to the cracking contest at Elland Road.
In truth, City struggled to find any real fluency after a bright opening, but it was fitting that striker Martin should deliver the decisive blow. Left out of the starting line-up for a league match for the first time since the end of September - when he also came off the bench to break the deadlock against Leyton Orient - he provided the perfect answer with a goal that was worthy of the occasion, if rather out of keeping with the first 88 minutes of action.
All three substitutes were involved as Anthony McNamee hooked the ball forward, skipper Grant Holt headed it wide to Stephen Hughes and the midfielder raced into Leeds territory before delivering the perfect cross for Martin to steal ahead of defender Neill Collins at the near post and score with an angled, diving header.
Carrow Road was engulfed in noise and colour, with the exception of the section occupied by the stunned travelling fans, for who substitute Tresor Kandol's subsequent red card and the final score from Millwall added insult to injury before the long journey home.
Neither side looked very likely to claim all three points before Martin struck, with Leeds substitute Mike Grella squandering arguably the best opportunity after 58 minutes when he wriggled deep into Norwich territory but struck the tamest of shots straight at goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Other than that, both sides were largely restricted to long-range efforts, and City's shooting was wayward indeed.
The hosts began brightly and Simon Lappin might have done better than fire wide, right-footed, after Adam Drury and Stephen Elliott - the two players to benefit from Lambert's team changes - set up the chance.
There was a worrying four-minute delay before Leeds striker Luciano Becchio was stretchered off after being caught in the head by Michael Nelson's high boot, and the break seemed to take some of the wind out of City's sails.
Neil Kilkenny and Beckford, who had an earlier effort blocked by Gary Doherty, tried their luck from long range and at the other end, Holt hooked a shot high over the bar rather hastily after Korey Smith battled well to create the opening.
After the break, Elliott's radar was similarly awry when he ballooned a shot into the crowd after Smith and Hoolahan combined to put him clear, then Grella fluffed Leeds' best opening.
Robert Snodgrass was not too far off target with a swerving effort after Nelson headed clear a cross from Shane Lowry, but with Beckford outplayed by Doherty and Holt kept similarly quiet - his frustration earning him his ninth yellow card of the season for a rash challenge on Snodgrass, one short of another suspension - a goalless stalemate looked likely.
Chris Martin, who replaced Elliott just after the hour, had one shot charged down but City had saved the best until last.
His superb winning goal was not the end of the story, with Kandol, a stoppage-time replacement for ex-Canary Andy Hughes, sent off in a matter of seconds for an ill-advised shove on Darel Russell, though the red card seemed harsh in the light of some of the challenges that had gone before.