Sub Cody takes chance to lift Norwich City clear at top
Chris Lakey Walsall 1, Norwich City 2: City are fast becoming a team for all conditions after winning a pitch battle in the Midlands on Tuesday. Having smashed in five on Colchester's bog 11 days ago, the Canaries somehow kept their feet in the bog that masquerades as a football pitch at Walsall to secure yet another of those significant victories that go an awful long way to securing league titles.
Walsall 1, Norwich City 2
City are fast becoming a team for all conditions after winning a pitch battle in the Midlands last night.
Having smashed in five on Colchester's bog 11 days ago, the Canaries somehow kept their feet in the bog that masquerades as a football pitch at Walsall to secure yet another of those significant victories that go an awful long way to securing league titles.
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It wasn't pretty, thanks to a pitch that cut up within minutes of kick-off, but after two postponements because of freezing conditions you clearly take what you can at the Banks's Stadium. And if it moves you clear at the top of the league, who cares?
For a while it looked like Walsall - the only team to prevent City scoring in the league this season - would have the upper hand after taking a first-half lead, but the Canaries, for the first time this campaign, were forced to come from behind for their three points.
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But Chris Martin's 18th of the season and one from sub Cody McDonald, not only maintained City's lead, but earned them a three-point advantage over Leeds, who went down at Swindon.
"We are top of the league," sang the fans - it's becoming a big hit down Norfolk way.
Lambert made one change to his starting line-up and, as expected, Oli Johnson stepped into the considerable boots of leading scorer Grant Holt.
City kicked off - and even that didn't go right, which followed the tone of two postponements of this game already, as ref Mark Haywood asked them to try again.
Ex-Ipswich defender Matt Richards tested the strength of Michael Nelson's neck muscles with a free-kick the City defender headed away in the early moments.
But Chris Martin forced the first corner on three minute after neat work on the edge of the area as City passed the ball around well.
The pitch was already cutting up badly by the time Martin and Adam Drury combined well down the left for a corner off Manny Smith, which led to a good spell of pressure by City, who were testing Walsall's aerial resolve.
Johnson did well in the area after a nice cut-back from Russell Martin, teeing up Simon Lappin whose right-foot shot was straight at keeper Clayton Ince.
There were problems for City on 12 minutes when Drury showed clear signs of struggling with his right thigh - Lappin moved to left back and within minutes Stephen Hughes had come on to take over in midfield.
News had probably filtered through that Leeds were behind at Swindon - judging by the visiting fans' chanting - and Chris Martin nearly increased the volume but failed to connect to Wes Hoolahan's cross on 17 minutes.
Within moments Nelson appeared to be trying to shake off a knock as well - and suddenly there were shades of the away game at MK Dons in September when City lost three players through injury.
City regrouped and almost went ahead when Hoolahan put Johnson through and his chip over the advancing Ince was cleared off the line by Jamie Vincent - with the City striker flattened by the keeper for his efforts.
Walsall midfielder Mark Bradley shot wide from a good position after a nice set-up by Darren Byfield, but it only served to spark another spell of pressure by City - sadly short-lived.
Byfield fizzed one just wide on 28 minutes and then set up the opening on 35 minutes with a through ball to Troy Deeney, who got the better of Nelson in the chase down the middle. Keeper Fraser Forster came, Lappin joined in and the ball fell to the feet of Deeney, who simply had to tuck it home from an angle on the right side of the six-yard box. It was arguably rough on City, but the first half wasn't one for the purist.
Russell Martin lobbed a half-volley just over soon after the restart as City set about making up the deficit in front of their own, noisy, fans,
Darel Russell gifted Deeney possession 25 yards but when the striker dithered over his shot, the City man got back to make amends with a fine blocking tackle.
Chris Martin shot just wide, while Korey Smith was an inch too short to get his head on Lappin's cross. Hughes blasted over after a terrific, driving run by Smith as City began to show more signs of urgency.
But City were struggling to crack the home defence and Lambert made a double change on 66 minutes, McDonald and the pacy Antony McNamee replacing Johnson and Smith.
Hughes had to head off the line as Clayton McDonald's header from a corner almost looped its way in as City almost crumbled at the back.
A second goal and it would probably have been game over, with Walsall on top, but the consolation was that news was filtering through of another goal at Swindon -not that the players were wise to that.
It may have proved an inspiration - not that Chris Martin needed it on 77 minutes when he turned in a packed area and from just a few yards out tucked the ball home after Walsall failed to clear Hoolahan's corner.
Hoolahan almost got a second when his corner skimmed Ince's crossbar and Russell drove a 25-yarder in which the keeper tipped over.
City's 1,365 fans were in good voice as the game began to swing in their favour - and five minutes from time they were in raptures as Hoolahan clipped the ball in from the left and found McDonald eight yards out - and the sub lashed home a right-foot volley off the post.
City weren't home and dry - Saturday's hero Forster saved at his near post from Byfield in time added on.