Norwich City get their fans thinking
Michael Bailey Nottingham Forest 1, Norwich City 1: It always feels a little special when you travel to the City Ground. Nottingham Forest is a club not too dissimilar in size to the Canaries.
Nottingham Forest 1, Norwich City 1
It always feels a little special when you travel to the City Ground.
Nottingham Forest is a club not too dissimilar in size to the Canaries. One which constantly echoes with the charisma of Brian Clough and an era that earned those two stars above the crest on the Forest players' shirts.
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So rest assured, those City Ground long timers - both in the stands and the press box - know their football. And on Saturday, there was only one team catching their attention.
The Canaries' work rate was the headline observation - something all too easily taken for granted if you're watching them every week.
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But even for the regulars, Saturday's efforts from City's XI - with manager Paul Lambert using not one substitute - could not be ignored. Indeed, City played like they were using the energy of two Saturdays in one game to compensate for their free weekend in seven days' time.
Norwich's style got a mention as well: “There's only one team playing the football,” was overheard, while the general consensus was it's been some time since Forest were given so much to think about over 90 minutes in a league game.
City probably wouldn't mind following Forest's recent blueprint: League One promotion followed by a stabilising season in the Championship and then a full tilt at promotion to the Premier League in season two.
The City faithful would probably take that.
But using Saturday as a marker, the Canaries could have enough to make even quicker progress.
Because, even as someone who saw City's sole aim this season as consolidating their return to the Championship, it was hard not to question just what they could achieve come May on the back of such a competent and confident performance - one easily as good as anything offered up by the Canaries in this division over recent campaigns.
Norwich could have been two goals to the good after just six minutes, so bright was their start. Chris Martin, looking every inch the player his early promise suggested, was rightly disappointed to see his effort from the edge of the area canon off the angle of post and bar having shown up Forest defender Wes Morgan's distinct lack of mobility.
That was minute five. Sixty seconds later, Martin's low free-kick flicked a large chunk of Lee Camp's upright from a little further out - a couple of inches to the left would have done it, with Forest's former City 'keeper Lee Camp well and truly beaten.
A mixture of grumbles and shock swept around the City Ground at those early exchanges and, much like the Canaries' bright and incisive play, they continued until the final whistle.
Expectancy is high at Forest, and the perception of being out manoeuvred by a newly promoted side was not going down well.
City had the first penalty claim of the afternoon, 22 minutes in. Grant Holt, away from goal, got in a tangle with Forest right-back Luke Chambers.
Contact? Yes, and a hushed City Ground to acknowledge the danger. But City's appeals directed at referee Scott Mathieson were waved away, and that was that.
Forest were huffing and puffing a little, but City's swift counters were keeping a side that performed so well last season on the back foot - until the picture threatened to turn in five controversial minutes.
On the half hour Leon Barnett, making his debut after joining on loan from West Brom, had been a picture of assured defending until he took too long over a clearance.
Blackstock tapped the ball away from under his feet, leaving the striker's leg as the only object to make contact with the City centre-half's boot.
The lack of a whistle left several Forest players - some of which, by now, were surrounding Mathieson - and the City Ground stunned. That may also explain why, five minutes later and after a rare bout of indecision from the City defence, Paul Anderson's swan dive towards the leg of Russell Martin gave Mathieson a dubious chance to make amends.
It also left the Norwich fans behind the goal with their own stint of feeling aggrieved.
Unlike against Swansea, there were no heroics from John Ruddy. Blackstock's spot kick was in the only place he couldn't reach as the City 'keeper picked the right way. Forest had their lead and the City ground perked up, but the pattern of the game didn't change - and the Canaries took only seven minutes to restore parity.
Andrew Surman, in his best display of the season, swung in a free-kick and Chris Martin's second bite at the cherry fell to Andrew Crofts, who somehow flicked the ball under pressure over Camp's outstretched hand and into the net. A brilliantly improvised finished from a player settling very well into City life.
Centre-back Kevin Wilson had a nibble at Holt as the second half arrived - arguably another good shout for City to grab a penalty of their own - while a combination of Ward and Barnett closed the door as Anderson pulled the trigger.
That was the winger's last action of the day, a knee injury resulting from the collision, which could see him out for some time.
City continued to look the more purposeful, with Holt getting the perfect chance to get one over his old side. Surman's classy ball was sublimely weighted, but Camp advanced well to get his legs in the way of Holt's driven shot.
For the first time this season, no late goal for City to enjoy. In fact, the boot could have been on the other foot as Earnshaw rattled the post from an impossible angle, having earlier volleyed a sweet one from range narrowly wide.
But in the end, City's travelling fans - a brilliantly vocal 2,532 - could greet the final whistle with pride in a heartening performance.
How Forest progress this season will add context to this weekend's result and City's performance; they were also slow starters last season. But the fact remains if City produce these performances regularly over the coming months, aiming for a season of consolidation would be selling Lambert's side a little short.