Simeon Jackson gives David James a bad hair day
BRISTOL CITY 0, NORWICH CITY 3: David James has had his fair share of difficult days at the mercy of international forwards. But he was left helpless by another overseas striker as Norwich City continued their impressive run of away performances with victory at Ashton Gate.
Jackson, given a second successive start by manager Paul Lambert in preference to Chris Martin, scored twice and might have had four goals as the Canaries comfortably held on to third place in the table and condemned the Robins to bottom spot after 10 matches.
Wes Hoolahan, ignored by the Republic of Ireland for their imminent Euro 2012 double header despite his outstanding club form, scored City’s other goal from the penalty spot as they chalked up their third away win of the campaign.
The 3-0 scoreline did not flatter Lambert’s team, who were composed and well organised at the back, tireless in midfield and dangerous in attack and might have embarrassed Keith Millen’s struggling outfit by an even greater margin.
For Bristol City fans, whose side was one match away from a place in the Premier League just two years ago, it must have been a soul-destroying afternoon but for more than 1,300 travelling Canary followers, the result and the performance will have left them wondering just how much this team can achieve.
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Unbeaten Queens Park Rangers have a very healthy lead going into the two-week international break, but is is unlikely this City side will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of a trip to Loftus Road when hostilities resume on October 16.
They coped admirably with the late change made necessary by defender Adam Drury’s hamstring injury in the pre-match warm-up and once they had their noses in front midway though the first half, they took a firm grip on the contest.
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The hosts had edged possession in the opening 20 minutes but there was little in the way of a goal threat at either end, Danny Rose pulling a left-foot shot wide from the Robins’ best opening.
In the 23rd minute, however, the Canaries acquired a lead they never looked in danger of relinquishing, and if there was an element of fortune about the build-up to the goal, the finish was lethal.
A mistake by Jamie McAllister handed possession to Norwich and Hoolahan’s short pass to Andrew Crofts ricocheted off the midfielder straight into the path of Jackson, who advanced a few yards before beating James with a rising drive.
Skipper Grant Holt missed an opportunity to make it 2-0 when he shot wide as he slid in to meet Korey Smith’s cross, and Hoolahan tried unsuccessfully to lob James from a distance, but it was not long before City extended their lead.
With 33 minutes gone, Robins skipper Louis Carey blocked a shot from Holt with his hands and referee Fred Graham pointed straight to the spot. James guessed correctly and dived to his left but Hoolahan drilled the perfect penalty along the ground, just inside the post.
Elliott Ward’s growing assurance in the centre of the City defence was illustrated by a timely block to stop Jon Stead getting in a shot, and their two-goal advantage was preserved at the break when Marvin Elliott headed over from a corner.
Half-time substitute Lee Johnson almost reduced the arrears one minute after the restart when he struck the crossbar after neat work by Rose and Stead, but that was as close as the Robins came to getting on the scoresheet.
As the home side became more desperate to find a way back into the game, they became even more vulnerable at the back and Jackson had the freedom of Bristol.
First his powerful shot just cleared the bar after Holt won a tackle on halfway and Hoolahan sent him away.
Then Jackson moved on to Simon Lappin’s through-ball and caught defenders Steven Caulker and Carey dithering hopelessly, nipping in to nudge a low shot narrowly past the post.
By now James might have been tearing his hair out, had it not been so carefully arranged, and the veteran ’keeper was beaten again in the 64th minute when Jackson made it 3-0. Goalkeeper John Ruddy’s quick thinking paid dividends when his long kick sent the Canadian racing clear on the right, and he kept one step ahead of Jamal Campbell-Ryce before firing a low shot just inside the post.
Drury’s late replacement, Steven Smith, looking understandably weary as the afternoon progressed, summoned the energy for an important block to keep out Albert Adomah’s shot, and City might have made victory even more emphatic in the closing minutes had Lappin not missed a clear opportunity to end his three-year goal drought by shooting over the bar from the edge of the area.
The last chance of a consolation goal disappeared in stoppage time when substitute Brett Pitman fired over the top, which rather summed up the hosts’ painful afternoon.
Lambert urged supporters and media alike not to get carried way by his team’s bright start on their return to the Championship, and it is true that the next 10 matches have a more demanding look than the first 10. But the way City have acquitted themselves since the opening day defeat by Watford suggests they have every reason to look forward to the challenge.