The most dramatic Norwich City late show in many years
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Well I wasn’t expecting that… And neither, I imagine, was anyone else, other than Mark Lawrenson.
Not only was that the most dramatic win of recent times at Carrow Road, it was also the most improbable.
The only game that comes close came exactly three years earlier when goals after 78 and 90+4 minutes by Oli Johnson secured a 2-1 victory over Southend, but the quality of the opposition in those two fixtures simply doesn’t compare.
Yes, there were also the successes over Millwall, Reading and Derby two seasons ago, but at the time City were going well, with in-form players and confidence flowing throughout the club. Anything seemed possible.
On Saturday, however, the Canaries were distinctly second-best for much of the afternoon – but refused to believe that they were beaten. It was the kind of spirit which has been largely absent so far in 2013.
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When the second half got under way and the scoreboard clock started at 0.00 rather than 45.00 it seemed as even an extra half wouldn’t make any difference to the outcome on Saturday.
Everton were in control, and it seemed as if we were going to be made to pay for those dropped points against Newcastle and Fulham.
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I still stand by being critical of the approach to those games, because if Saturday’s match had finished 10 minutes earlier the bottom of the Premier League table would be looking a whole lot worse now. But you like to think we learned a thing or two from those two draws – not least bringing on substitutes earlier.
In particular, the introduction of Kei Kamara, which provided more of a boost off the field than on it.
There was simply a buzz any time the ball came within 20 feet of him: you just never knew what was going to happen. Until that point Everton had seemed firmly on top and had Nikola Jelavic been anything like as effective as he was at Carrow Road last season his side might have been three goals to the good.
Until that point Carrow Road had the atmosphere of a nothing-at-stake, last-day-of-the-season afternoon.
But the crucial change was bringing on Anthony Pilkington for Wes Hoolahan while there was still more than enough time for the newcomer to make an impact.
Once Kamara came on anything seemed possible – it was an individual display like that of the previously-mentioned Johnson or Marc Libbra, though hopefully one that can be repeated more often.
There remains the need for a great deal of squad reconstruction work over the summer, but we are now a whole lot closer to preserving our place in the elite.
And at least we are giving it a go – the temptation might have been to sit back on that point for the last few minutes rather than go all out in search of victory.
The games against Newcastle and Fulham wouldn’t have looked out of place for much of season 2004/5 with its ‘little old Norwich, we’re just glad to be here’ timid approach.
The display against Tottenham and the closing stages on Saturday were more akin to the 2011/2 campaign. Remind me which one we were more successful in?
I suppose it’s possible that the likes of Reading and Villa could win five of their last 11 to get to around the 40-point mark, but we have taken a lot of pressure off ourselves now – we certainly won’t be lumped into too many ‘the relegation contenders’-type stories by the great and the good of Fleet Street for the time being.
But if a certain Match of the Day pundit tips us to get something at Old Trafford now, well, who am I to argue, for one week at least?
• SOUTHAMPTON GAME COULD NOW SECURE OUR FUTURE
Whenever I think that the Canaries are safe from the threat of relegation I always think back to the journey home on the evening of Monday, March 20, 1995 following the 3-0 win over Ipswich at Carrow Road.
A trip in the company of an opposition supporter, too. We didn’t talk very much…
It was back in the far mists of time – an era when derby games didn’t sell out and a ticket would set you back £10, but some will remember it just as vividly as me.
City’s first league win in 12 games left them eight points clear of the relegation zone with as many games still to play. Despite the ultimate post-Christmas slump surely that gap would be enough.
Well we all know what happened in the remaining fixtures – a grand total of one point being secured, and on the last day of the season.
So being eight points ahead of this year’s bottom three is no cause for celebration – yet. But Saturday’s victory was perfectly timed, bringing to an end potentially our worst collapse since 1995 and before the four most crucial games at home to Southampton, Reading and Villa and away to Wigan – the ones which you would expect to seal our fate.
The longer that winless run went on the harder and harder it would have been to dig ourselves out of it in time for that testing quartet.
We might now have been hoping against hope: “Well, if Robin van Persie is out and Manchester United rest a few other big names ahead of Real Madrid, you never know…”
There still might be an upset, who knows? I suspect we’ll pay for being one of the few sides to take points off United this season – Everton, Tottenham and Swansea being the others. But at least we’ll go to Old Trafford knowing again that we can actually win games. And there’s the consolation that the really important game comes seven days later.
Beat Southampton and even a late collapse on the scale of 1995 wouldn’t be enough to relegate us.
• MOANING MOYES LET HIMSELF DOWN
Give Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger their dues – at least they admitted that the Canaries deserved to beat their teams rather than identify someone else’s failings.
“You can always find excuses when you lose a game but, overall, you have to stand up and say Norwich wanted it more than us,” Wenger said in October.
“They deserved the win because they worked so hard for it,” Ferguson admitted the following month.
Contrast that with David Moyes confronting the referee at the final whistle on Saturday. I always thought he was that most rare of things in professional football – a man with the highest personal standards and integrity. Now I’m not quite so sure.
For long spells on Saturday the Canaries were there for the taking – if Everton didn’t win it was purely down to them, and no-one else.
Coming out with: “I cannot understand why (the referee) plays three minutes and 20 seconds for the stoppage time, but he has got that discretion, although I disagree with it,” in front of the Match of the Day cameras just makes you look stupid.
It’s on a par with Tony Pulis’: “The goal was a disappointment. I have been in to see the referee to have a quick chat.”
Or Martin O’Neill’s: “We conceded some very, very poor goals and it gave us an uphill task.”
Or Roberto Martinez’s: “Clearly he (James McCarthy) was targeted. They got away with it. You don’t want to see players injured in such a ruthless manner.”
And Michael Laudrup wasn’t much better: “In the first half we conceded three goals and it was not a very good performance.”
Considering we’ve hardly won a game due to our own efforts or been offered much credit by the opposition it’s a miracle we haven’t got fewer points than Derby’s 11 in 2007/8, never mind being on the brink of a third season in the Premier League.
• AS IF I’D FORGET
I always renew my season ticket as close to the first deadline as I can, largely in the hope that the cost won’t turn up until the following month’s credit card bill.
I’ve never missed that cut-off point, so really club officials ought to check their records rather than send me a reminder in the post.
Perhaps in future they might like to just cut 50p off the price of season tickets. I would say this action was at least good news for the Post Office, but since it came courtesy of a privatised mail company there wasn’t even that consolation for me.
• ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER NEW BOSS
Declan Rudd might have to wait a long time to figure in the first-team picture at Carrow Road, so it’s just as well that he’s getting some experience elsewhere.
Certainly his performance for Preston at Swindon stood out on the Football League Show on Saturday. But in three games he’s now played under three managers – Graham Westley, John Dreyer and Simon Grayson.