Ship-shape and Bristol fashion
David Cuffley Bristol Rovers 0, Norwich City 3: When Norwich City took the rather unusual step last week of announcing the names of the leading contenders for the player of the season award, there was one surprising absentee from the list of five front runners in the annual poll.
Bristol Rovers 0, Norwich City 3
When Norwich City took the rather unusual step last week of announcing the names of the leading contenders for the player of the season award, there was one surprising absentee from the list of five front runners in the annual poll.
The man in question had 22 goals in all competitions this season, had scored against all the Canaries' main promotion rivals except Charlton and, with his splendid late winner against Leeds, had produced arguably the single most exciting moment of a memorable campaign.
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That goal tally became 23 for Chris Martin at Bristol Rovers as City chalked up their 12th away victory in League One, one of many club records set by Paul Lambert's title-winning side.
There are, in truth, at least half a dozen outstanding candidates for the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy - as opposed to last season, when it was hard to find one - but the young striker's contribution should not be overlooked.
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One has to go back more than a decade for the last City player before Martin and 30-goal skipper Grant Holt to top 20 in a season. Iwan Roberts scored 23 times back in 1998-99 and was named player of the year as a result.
True, Martin is operating a division below the Welsh warrior and six of his goals have come in cup-ties, but the 21-year-old has been handed a big responsibility in attack during the absence, through injury or suspension, of Holt and Wes Hoolahan, and has shouldered it remarkably well.
He did so again at the Memorial Stadium - though it was hardly the pressure-cooker atmosphere that accompanied City's key promotion battles - scoring once and having a hand in the other two goals.
The convivial mood was clear from the start, and not just from the number of Pirates and Nelson lookalikes in attendance. Rovers gave the City players a guard of honour as they took the field and both sets of fans gave the champions a great ovation. That spirit of generosity was shown a little too freely by the home defence as the game unfolded.
Rovers began brightly enough, however, and City 'keeper Fraser Forster had to dive to his right to keep out Charlie Reece's powerful drive in the seventh minute, smothering the loose ball as Chris Lines attempted to follow up.
Martin sliced wide from a cross by Anthony McNamee - one of three players recalled in Lambert's reshuffle - as the Canaries carved out their first real opening, and Lines struck another powerful effort just past the post as play swung from end to end.
On-loan Stephen Elliott had a couple of half-chances for City, but the breakthrough came in the 31st minute.
Martin intercepted a poor pass by Daniel Jones and tried to tee up McNamee for a shot, but though he found his path blocked, the ball came back to Martin, who beat Rovers' player of the season, goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen, with a perfectly-placed left-foot shot, all along the ground.
Forster had to dash out to collect ahead of Darryl Duffy after a rare misjudgment by Michael Nelson, but City were soon back on the attack with Michael Rose brought down by Byron Anthony on the edge of the area as he shaped to shoot. Anthony was booked, but Simon Lappin, still searching for his first goal of the season, struck the free-kick into the wall.
City had one or two hesitant moments at the back as Rovers looked for an equaliser, Lines heading just over from a corner, but the killer goal came in stoppage time in the first half as Oli Johnson replaced the hobbling Elliott and scored with his first touch. Forster's goal-kick was nodded on by Martin to McNamee, who showed deft footwork to pick out Johnson on the right side of the area, the substitute clipping a delicate ball over the stranded Andersen.
Within two minutes of the restart, Johnson almost scored a second when he created space for a left-foot shot that flew just over the top.
To their credit, Rovers had some idea going forward but failed to seriously trouble Forster, and City made the game safe in the 67th minute when Stephen Hughes scored his third goal of the season after more woeful defending by the hosts. Martin dispossessed Anthony and took the ball wide to the right of the penalty area before firing a low cross to the near post, where Hughes deflected the ball home. Hughes almost had a second three minutes later when McNamee put him through but Andersen saved at point-blank range.
There was a rare taste of first team action for defender Jens Berthel Askou, out since December, and double promotion winner Paul McVeigh, as Lambert made two further changes.
But it was Rovers who came closest to scoring with 10 minutes left when Ben Swallow crossed from the left and Duffy's header bounced twice on the crossbar before dropping behind.
The civilities continued after the final whistle when many City supporters stayed to applaud the Rovers players as they completed their end-of-season lap, and the gentleman on the public address, the perfect host, wished the travelling fans a safe trip home and a successful time next season in the Championship, where it will be nowhere near as polite.