Photo Gallery: Spurs win simply the best of all, says Norwich City boss Paul Lambert
Tottenham Hotspur 1, Norwich City 2: The Canaries pulled off the most remarkable result of three remarkable seasons under manager Paul Lambert as they upstaged Champions League hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur in front of their stunned home crowd.
Trips to White Hart Lane have a special place in the Canaries’ long history but there was never a more deserved victory than this as the team Lambert has built largely from Championship and League One players outshone the multi-million pound array of talent under the direction of the people’s choice for the post of England manager.
To illustrate the point, Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett, two men plying their trade in League One last season, scored the goals that condemned Harry Redknapp’s Spurs to only their third Premier League home defeat of the campaign. Only the two Manchester clubs had departed the same venue with three points until City’s Easter Monday triumph, which prompted joyful celebrations from the squad in front of some 3,000 travelling fans as the rest of the stadium rapidly emptied.
“It was the best performance in the three years I’ve been here. That’s the magnitude of it,” said Lambert, unable to conceal his delight. “I thought we were brilliant, right from the off. We’re up against a side who want to be playing Champions League football. It was incredible, really, really incredible.
“They’re a fabulous side, Tottenham. A top side, a top manager with everything going for them. They’ve got some world-class players. They came a few months ago to Norwich and it was a really hard time.
“We changed the team around a little bit to give the lads a rest from the Everton game and with Manchester City in mind, but we’ve been playing really well, the football we’ve been playing has been excellent and I think you can see we went for it.”
For Pilkington, it was a memorable return to the side after missing three games with a hamstring injury. His eighth goal of the season gave City a 13th-minute lead, and though Jermain Defoe levelled the scores after 33 minutes, the stage was set for Bennett to produce a stunning first goal for the club on 66 minutes to seal City’s first victory at Spurs since 1993.
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“Pilks was excellent,” said Lambert. “He’s got great delivery of a football and he hasn’t even played Championship football. I thought Valencia’s goal against Blackburn was top drawer, but that was an absolute bullet from Benno. They deserve all the praise that’s coming to them. I’m as proud as anything of them – every one of them.”
Pilkington, looking bright from the start, laid the foundations for his opening goal by robbing Younes Kaboul and pushing the ball in Aaron Wilbraham’s direction. As Kyle Walker’s attempted clearance took a ricochet off Ledley King, the ball dropped perfectly for Pilkington to tuck his shot past Brad Friedel.
Gareth Bale, who scored twice at Carrow Road in December, was denied by a splendid challenge by Russell Martin and sent one centre whizzing across the six-yard box just out of reach of Defoe, but when Spurs did draw level there was an element of controversy.
There were appeals for a City penalty when skipper Grant Holt appeared to be dragged to the ground over by King – “That wouldn’t have looked out of place at Murrayfield, that tackle,” said Lambert – but referee Michael Oliver was unmoved and while Lambert was protesting to fourth official Phil Dowd, Spurs broke swiftly and Jake Livermore sent Defoe racing away on the right where he coolly beat John Ruddy for the equaliser.
The Canaries were almost ahead again within a minute as Elliott Bennett swung in a free-kick and Elliott Ward’s powerfully volley was beaten away by Friedel.
Eight minutes into the second half, goalkeeper Ruddy kept the Canaries on terms when he made a tremendous one-handed save from Benoit Assou-Ekotto after the defender played a one-two with substitute Emmanuel Adebayor and looked certain to score.
Bradley Johnson missed a golden opportunity to restore City’s lead on 58 minutes when Holt floated in the perfect cross, but the midfielder sliced high over the top.
At the other end, there was a real escape for City when Bale’s curling effort struck the bar and rebounded to safety, but it was City who regained the lead when Elliott Bennett picked up Russell Martin’s pass and steadied himself before rifling in a powerful right-foot shot that gave Friedel no chance.
Bale flashed a header wide from Assou-Ekotto’s cross and there was a short delay after a nasty collision between Wilbraham and substitute Rafael Van der Vaart, the City striker suffering a cut to the left side of his head and making way for Simeon Jackson.
But City finished the stronger of the two sides and Johnson came close to stretching their lead in five minutes of stoppage time.
Victory pushed City back into the top half, but even with 43 points in the bag, Lambert stressed: “Top 10? I don’t worry about that. I just want to be safe.”