Norwich City held nerve on big night
It was Paul Lambert who best summed up the Canaries’ 2-1 victory over play-off-chasing Nottingham Forest on Friday night.
“It was massive,” he stated matter-of-factly afterwards.
Indeed it was. Norwich’s biggest game of the season and their most important victory to date in truth. Which indeed each one in turn will be from now on.
Because Friday’s triumph ensured that Norwich remain very much in with a real shot of automatic promotion to the Premier League.
The game itself was a wonderful advert for Championship football being played at its very best.
Two sides intent on attacking at every opportunity and desperate to win the game, meaning 90 minutes of end-to-end football and the copious amounts of excitement and anxiety that entails, with loads of desire, determination and passion in the process.
Having only secured one point from their two previous matches, the night couldn’t have got off to a worse start for the Canaries though, because when Nathan Tyson chased down John Ruddy’s attempted clearance, and the ball spun freakishly off the speedy Forest striker’s leg into unguarded net after just a couple of minutes play, more than 26,000 fans could have been forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t going to be City’s night.
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Then again, and as the vast majority of those 26,000 regulars know only too well, it takes more than just a bit of bad fortune and a one goal deficit to prevent Norwich from getting the job done.
As was ultimately proved once again. It was far from a case of City having it all their own way though. Billy Davies’ team looked a very dangerous attacking outfit and they troubled the Canaries repeatedly throughout the game.
In Lewis McGugan they possess one of the best young midfielders in the division, and he was often the orchestrator of so much of Forest’s sweeping attacking play that was instigated in the middle of the park and which often yielded to heart-stopping moments in the Canaries’ penalty area.
The visitors were also worryingly finding plenty of space to exploit in the middle and final thirds of the pitch, meaning that City were forced into several moments of last-ditch defending.
After the break Norwich looked much more solid and effective as a defensive unit. By contrast, at the other end of the pitch City still looked likely to add to their one goal lead, and it wouldn’t be a case of being biased to suggest that in that second half we witnessed Norwich players performing at the top of their game in every department of the pitch.
The Canaries looked cohesive, fluid and confident, and with the supporters producing a cracking atmosphere from the stands and backing their heroes to the hilt yet again, it made for a truly memorable evening. And once Lambert had acknowledged the recognition of the adoring masses at the final whistle and finally had time to catch his breath, as the City boss accurately highlighted, all things considered, this one was just about as big as they get.
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – ANDREW SURMAN: A really difficult choice given that so many players in yellow shirts could rightfully lay claim to having been the pick of the bunch on Friday night, with Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward being two notable examples. Both of the City centre-backs produced sublime defensive displays, particularly so in the second half when Forest enjoyed periods of sustained pressure. In attack, Grant Holt proved just how important he is to the Canaries’ front line by scoring one goal and making the other, whilst Simeon Jackson delivered a tireless performance; constantly making intelligent and well-timed darting runs in behind the opposition defence and generally proving to be such a thorn in their side. But it’s midfielder Surman who gets my vote. Like everyone else in the side he worked his socks off, and he complemented that by frequently picking, and then executing the right pass. And he rounded off an accomplished individual display with a clinical finish that could ultimately prove to be such a crucial winning goal.