Nelson steers Norwich City to sweet revenge
Chris Lakey Chalrton Athletic 0, Norwich City 1: When the historians come to update the story of Norwich City Football Club, they will add a handful of highly significant dates, which all fall within the space of 350 days.
When the historians come to update the story of Norwich City Football Club, they will add a handful of highly significant dates, which all fall within the space of 350 days.
May 3, 2009: Charlton away
August 8, 2009: Colchester at home
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August 14, 2009: Bryan Gunn sacked
August 18, 2009: Paul Lambert appointed
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April 17, 2010: Norwich promoted at Charlton
When City lost at Charlton last season they did so with a performance that encapsulated much of the campaign. Four loan players started the game, two more were on the bench. The heart of Norwich City wasn't in it and the club slid out of the Championship with hardly a whimper.
Gunn assembled a new squad over the summer, but then along came Lambert and his Colchester team and shot all hopes to pieces with a seven-goal blast. City were a laughing stock and Gunn was sacked.
Then Lambert returned, to stay, with the order from above to get City into the play-offs.
How did he do it? He made a team. One which shed its label as a bunch of jokers and, in winning at Charlton, set a club record of 11 away wins in a season.
Gary Doherty and Wes Hoolahan, Darel Russell and Simon Lappin - all were given second chances. All took them. All are reaping the benefit, although no one could have predicted just how well it would work.
Lambert rarely talks of individuals and most certainly doesn't single out players for criticism. If there's blame, it's almost always apportioned to the team as a whole.
Instead of naming and shaming a particular a player, he says "we", as he did instead of blaming Nelson for the Leyton Orient winner last Tuesday.
Why is that important? Because Michael Nelson then goes into the match at Charlton on Saturday knowing his manager has been loyal, protective, trusting. And he plays a blinder.
Not everyone survived: only Nelson, Doherty, Adam Drury and Chris Martin - plus Grant Holt, who was suspended on Saturday - started that game against Colchester, Lambert got rid of the dead wood and used the rest as a base.
Those players have paid him back in bucketfuls, especially on Saturday when he surpassed task one and got City promoted automatically. That Doherty and Nelson should play such a big party is significant. Many thought we would see neither again after the opening day, but they performed heroics on Saturday.
That they were overshadowed, just, by Fraser Forster says an awful lot about the young goalkeeper: twice in the first half he denied Nicky Bailey, one scooped, one-handed save from Deon Burton in the second was magnificent. The rest was almost what we have come to expect from a player who will surely be a Premier League regular one day soon - needless to say, he saves kitchen sinks for a living, because that's what Charlton threw at him in the second half as they tried desperately to equalise after Nelson's 34th-minute header had put City in control.
Lambert was forced to rearrange, with Korey Smith back home with an ankle injury - tough on a player who was the only bright light to come out of the last visit to Charlton. Russell Martin went to right midfield, Stephen Hughes partnered Darel Russell in the middle and Michael Spillane went right back.
No Holt, no Hoolahan, no Smith - 50 odd goals on the sidelines.
Hughes flashed one in at the near post from Lappin's cross only to see the offside flag. Lappin looked like breaking his scoring duck with a left-footer that Darren Randolph pushed away for a corner, from which the Scot found Nelson at the back post. 1-0. City fans behind the goal erupted.
Then came the rally at The Valley. Charlton came out with only one thing on their minds: attack. They pounded the City battlements, they drove down the flanks and teased the full-backs, but the resistance simply grew. Nelson and Doherty put their heads in places they had no right to; Russell, Hughes and Russell Martin provided added protection.
At times it was desperate. But always there was Forster. Burton saw a header saved, Nicky Forster forced his namesake to tip one over, Christian Dailly's instinctive close-range header was juggled by the keeper before being gratefully clasped to his chest
Shots were blocked, crosses were plucked out of the air - although Burton might consider spending extra time on the training ground this week to improve his turn and volley routine which let him down at least three times.
The piles of chewed fingernails mounted in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Lambert took off Oli Johnson and put on Michael Rose, creating a five-man midfield and leaving Chris Martin home alone up front. Phil Parkinson responded by sending on another out-and-out winger in Kyel Reid.
By the time the match went into time added on, Charlton keeper Randolph was grateful for an excuse to relieve his boredom and joined the attack. But when he did Charlton wasted a free-kick on the left of the area, Russell Martin put a boot in, drew the foul, waited a few seconds and when the ball reached halfway the whistle went to referee Andy Hall's mouth and it was all over.
City no good in London?
You're joking. The difference in the mentality of the two clubs might be explained a little in one incident midway through the second half. "Lambert, Lambert give us a wave" demanded the City fans. He looked, he waved, they responded with a huge roar. "Parky, Parky give us a wave" sang the Charlton fans. Their manager didn't look their way, and simply lifted his arm. The response was tepid.
Lambert has everyone singing off the same hymn sheet.
Now the history books have one more entry to make, and it could be this Saturday. One more point secures the title - unless City lose their three remaining games and Leeds win theirs - including one at Charlton - and overturn a goal difference of nine in the process.
Don't bet on it.