Photo Gallery: Norwich City punishing the Premier League basement battlers
Norwich City 2, Wolves 1: Norwich City have managed to blow the occasional raspberry at the royalty of English football on their return to the Premier League, but it is the unforgiving way they have dealt with those mere mortals who occupy the basement that virtually guarantees they will enjoy another season among the elite.
Victory over Wolves at Carrow Road made it 19 points the Canaries have taken from the division’s bottom five clubs – five wins and four draws from nine matches with just a trip to Blackburn to come next month to complete their allotted fixtures against the teams most threatened with relegation.
While hard-fought draws with Liverpool and Chelsea and a couple of stirring encounters with reigning champions Manchester United may live longer in the memory, City’s current mid-table security owes much more to the fact that they have doubled Queens Park Rangers and Bolton and have now taken four points off the men from Molineux.
After securing just one point from the previous four league games, Paul Lambert’s men eased any faint, lingering fears about slipping into a survival battle by beating bottom club Wolves in a game that was always entertaining, though not always for the right reasons.
Skipper Grant Holt overtook three of the club’s great goalscorers with a matchwinning brace that took his tally to 14 for the season in all competitions and 67 for the Canaries in a mere 123 games. His first goal was another classic to add to his Premier collection, but picking up a pair of a different kind – two yellow cards from referee Mark Clattenburg – also earned him a needless early exit and a one-match ban.
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Holt’s battle with recalled Wolves captain Roger Johnson, which had more needle than Cleopatra in the second period, led to his first booking and added to the theatre for fans who had already been treated to an animated first-half argument between goalkeeper John Ruddy and defender Elliott Ward that brought back memories of Kevin Keelan and Alan Black exchanging pleasantries.
Wolves were, however, unable to cash in on Holt’s absence for the final four minutes, plus four minutes of stoppage time, and on this evidence manager Terry Connor faces an uphill battle if they are to avoid returning to the Championship three years after being promoted as champions.
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The visitors began brightly enough and Kevin Doyle almost gave them an early lead with a header from Michael Kightly’s free-kick that Ruddy saved at the second attempt.
For the second week running, defender Zak Whitbread was close to a goal, this time with a firm header from David Fox’s 11th-minute corner, but Kightly, guarding the post, headed off the line.
Instead it was Wolves and Matt Jarvis who broke the deadlock in the 25th minute when Kightly saw just enough daylight ahead of the recalled Simon Lappin to cross into the six-yard box, where a faint touch from Doyle set up Jarvis to sidefoot home.
City were level inside a minute, however, when a flick by Elliott Bennett set up Simeon Jackson for a neat lob into Holt’s path, and he lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey before following up to nod it home.
Holt doubled his tally from the penalty spot in first-half injury time after Lappin teed up Wes Hoolahan for a powerful shot that struck the left arm of Eggert Jonsson. Holt drilled his penalty straight down the middle as Hennessey dived to his right.
Holt might have completed his hat-trick on the hour when Sebastien Bassong got in a vital header to stop him converting Bennett’s cross, then Jonny Howson, enjoying a lively debut, weaved his way into a shooting position before firing over.
After Roger Johnson and Holt had been booked – the Wolves man aimed a kick and Holt deliberately blocked him off – City continued to hold sway. Hoolahan did superbly to put substitute Steve Morison through on goal but Richard Stearman got back to deny him, then Howson forced Hennessey to save again, diving to his right, after Hoolahan teased the defence like a cat with a ball of wool.
Wolves were offered a hint of a chance with four minutes left when Holt brought Kightly crashing down from behind as he tried to atone for a stray pass, and was promptly shown a second yellow, then red.
But the only real opening came in the final minute, when Whitbread was booked for bringing down Nenad Milijas, only for fellow substitute Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to blast the free-kick into the wall, rather a waste for a player with five goals in his three previous games against Norwich.