Photo Gallery: Brave Norwich City play out of their skins against Bolton
Norwich City 2, Bolton Wanderers 0: Much of the post-match discussion concentrated on the rather peripheral issue of why none of Norwich City’s outfield players wore gloves on the coldest afternoon of the season so far.
When the Canaries needed to show a bit of fight against Bolton Wanderers, the gloves were most definitely off, all the more so after being deprived of the services of both central defenders before the half-time interval.
One might say that City rolled up their sleeves in the battle for three more valuable Premier League points, were it not for the fact that they were all wearing short-sleeved shirts, only a couple of players donning yellow “skins” under their tops.
With Bolton on a run of just one defeat in eight games and Lambert’s men bidding to recover from a 3-0 defeat at Sunderland three days earlier, the last thing they needed was to lose centre-backs Daniel Ayala and Zak Whitbread to injury in the opening half.
Yet so completely did City cope, substitute Russell Martin and Kyle Naughton forming an unlikely central pairing and winger Elliott Bennett coming off the bench to fulfil right-back duties – with the unenviable task of keeping tabs on Bulgarian forward Martin Petrov – that they might have won by more than a two-goal margin.
As it was, they completed their second double of the campaign, recorded their second clean sheet in successive home games and, barring some very strange results between now and May, put themselves within two or three victories of securing another season in the top flight.
Four changes from the underwhelming display at Stadium of Light had the desired effect, with Adam Drury, David Fox, Anthony Pilkington and Simeon Jackson all justifying their recalls and, apart from the odd Bolton raid in the second half, City were dominant.
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Skipper Grant Holt went close to taking his goal tally into double figures for the season in the 14th minute when he met Jackson’s cross with a volley that goalkeeper Adam Bogdan saved, moving to his right, then Jackson shot across goal from Andrew Surman’s pass and tested Bogdan again from a tight angle after latching on to Holt’s flick-on.
City suffered their first casualty midway through the half when Ayala went down clutching the back of his right leg and was escorted off by physio Neal Reynolds, to be replaced by Martin, before Surman missed a golden chance to give the Canaries the lead, striking the bar when it looked easier to score after Holt knocked Wes Hoolahan’s cross into his path.
Whitbread’s exit five minutes before the break, possibly more of a precaution than a long-term problem, forced another reshuffle with Bennett’s arrival, and as Bolton tried to cash in, Petrov whistled a shot just wide on the stroke of half-time.
But it was City who were sharper from the restart. Holt misdirected a header well wide from Drury’s cross and Jackson whistled a shot just past the woodwork from another Holt flick before glancing a header just off target from Hoolahan’s cross.
Bolton had their moments, David Ngog testing Ruddy with a smart shot on the turn and veteran striker Kevin Davies entering the fray before Petrov again fired across the face of goal.
Back came City, however, and Jackson and Hoolahan both went close before the breakthrough came 20 minutes from time.
From Fox’s pass, Jackson did well to get in a cross from the right and though Surman’s first effort struck defender David Wheater, he reacted smartly to volley the rebound into the roof of the net for his fourth goal in eight games.
Ruddy made another fine save to deny Petrov 11 minutes from time before Holt missed again, diverting Pilkington’s cross over the top after the winger played a one-two with Surman.
It was City who struck again, however, with five minutes remaining, through Pilkington’s sixth goal of the season. A corner from Fox was cleared as far as Pilkington and, after setting up Martin for a shot that Bogdan could only parry, he kept running and gleefully tucked away the rebound.
Surman might have made it 3-0 when he shot wide from substitute Steve Morison’s pass, and Petrov, the Bolton player to emerge with most credit, clipped the outside of the post in time added on, but too late to trouble the Canaries.