Supersub Oli conjures dramatic victory
Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Southend 1: Paul Lambert paid tribute to Oli Johnson last night as the rookie striker kept City's promotion challenge firmly on track. The 22-year-old bagged a headed winner just seconds from the end as it looked as if City were beginning to take the toughest route back to the Championship.
Norwich City 2, Southend United 1
Paul Lambert paid tribute to Oli Johnson last night as the rookie striker kept City's promotion challenge firmly on track.
The 22-year-old bagged a headed winner just seconds from the end as it looked as if City were beginning to take the toughest route back to the Championship.
After 16 matches without a defeat it's suddenly started to get a lot more difficult for City - and the Shrimpers were no exception to the current rule.
Southend, struggling to keep their heads above the drop zone, had frustrated City and 24,000 fans packed inside Carrow Road - until Johnson, pictured, broke their hearts and raised the roof after a superb cameo appearance off the bench.
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“Every time he has come on for us he has made something happen,” said Lambert. “You can hear the crowd have taken to a young lad really really quickly. he has made a major impact for us.
“He has got a terrific willingess to learn, his work rate is terrific and with his two goals his confidence will be sky high - you have got to remember he is not long out of non-league football, but he has been terrific.”
City were trailing to a goal by Scott Vernon at the very end of the first half, but within 10 minutes of coming on Johnson had levelled it - and a header deep into time added on gave City, forced into a change because of Darel Russell's suspension, the points.
“You have got to remember the same lads have gone week in, week out for weeks on end and then when you change it you have got to hope you get a reaction from the lads that come in and they did so. Oli, being a young lad, has come on, and given us that impetus to go again. He is unpredictable. He has got great feet - people don't realise he has got great feet to get away from people and I thought his header was absolutely top drawer.”
After two defeats in their previous three games, City were suddenly under scrutiny, and on a night when all the top clubs were in action, little changed in the race for promotion.
Leeds beat Oldham and remain three points behind City, with a game in hand. Swindon beat Stockport, Colchester's home game against Brentford was postponed - and Charlton stumbled yet again, beaten at home by Brighton.
The manner in which Lambert celebrated the winner shows just how important a win it was.
“It means a lot to everybody at the football club, and scoring a late goal it was terrific,” said Lambert. “I always go back to this club not winning their first three games at the start of the season and Leeds and Charlton and even Colchester being miles ahead of them, miles ahead, in goals and in points. The turnaround has been huge, no matter how you want to dress it up at the minute, it has been huge. What we have is a great spirit, the lads have driven it on and the crowd are playing their part. The atmosphere was absolutely sensational tonight. And you are only frustrated because you have that much of the ball. It is easy to be destructive rather than constructive and you have just got to hope somebody has a bit of magic or you get a break or something, and yes, we got the breaks. But I have been involved in a million games with teams going right to the death and getting a winner. I thought we deserved it.”
Southend boss Steve Tilson admitted his players were devastated, saying: “It's a tough one to take because I feel we deserved something out of the game. You expect to be on the back foot, you're playing away from home at the top side in the league, but they didn't create too many chances. They are devastated in the changing room - it is hard to take.”