Two goals, two yellows and a red
Saturday’s match was billed as a “must win” match for both sides. Norwich City duly beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1, and thereby kept clear blue water between themselves and the mini-league of relegation candidates, as well as arresting their own mini slump.
It was an eventful afternoon for Grant Holt, who scored two goals, received two yellow cards and a consequent red one, and who strengthened his claim for a call up for the full England team. Holty has now scored 12 Premiership goals this season (plus two more in the FA Cup). The only English player with more goals to his name this season than Holt is a certain Wayne Rooney, who is unavailable for the first two games of Euro 2012.
Yet again manager Lambert reshuffled his pack for this game. He recalled Russell Martin, Lappin (making only his second Premier league appearance of the campaign), Hoolahan, Holt, and Jackson. Howson made his home debut, Lappin played in midfield, and City played the first half with a back three rather than the usual back four.
Both sides had early chances, and Ward’s several misplaced clearances in the first half caused some Canary fans’ hearts to skip a beat and Ruddy to berate him in full view and hearing of the crowd. It was Wolves who broke the deadlock after 25 minutes when Jarvis (who caused problems for the City defence all afternoon) sidefooted home after good work from Kightly and Doyle. Stung to the quick, Norwich responded within a minute when Jackson lobbed the ball over the Wolves defence and Holt timed his run perfectly to head the ball down and beat Wolves keeper Hennessey.
City took the lead in the last minute of the first half when Hoolahan’s fierce shot struck the arm of Wolves’ defender Jonson. Referee Clattenburg rightly pointed to the spot, and Holt blasted home the penalty. On a lovely summer’s day, Carrow Road was wreathed in smiles, as well as in sunshine. At half-time after countless replays, both our goals looked even better on the TV screen than they had in the flesh, so as to speak.
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At half-time Lambert replaced Lappin with Naughton, presumably in an attempt to contain the dangerous Jarvis. Both sides had chances in the second half too, but Holt and Howson were unable to notch the third goal that the fans craved. Morison replaced Jackson after 73 minutes, and Norwich fans were more than happy to see the clock ticking towards the final whistle. But in the 86th minute there was high drama when Holt went from hero to zero after receiving a second yellow card and therefore a red one, and being sent as sent off after a rash tackle on Kightly.
The Wolves growled and scented blood in their nostrils, and Ruddy’s goal was under siege for the remainder of the game. But the ten men held out, despite a last minute scare when Whitbread brought down Milijas on the edge of the penalty area. Fortunately Ebanks-Blake’s free kick struck the defensive wall and rebounded to safety. When the final whistle finally came it was greeted with a huge cheer from the Norwich crowd, and the Barclay choir extolled the departing and still snarling Wolves to “say hello to Ipswich” next season.
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City now have 39 points. Even if they win all their remaining games, Wolves can only amass 46 points. Wigan and QPR can reach 49. So we are not yet mathematically safe from relegation. But each time we gain another point, or the bottom three drop one, we move closer to absolute safety. The three points which we won against Wolves, and the three points that they dropped against us, were therefore vitally important.
The fans may feel we are safe already. They may well be right. But I am sure the manager will not relax until we are mathematically safe. Then he can make realistic plans and sensible decisions about next season, including which players to retain, release, or bid for.
This Saturday Norwich play at Fulham, where we shall be seeking to exorcise the ghosts of our last visit there. Older readers will remember, and younger ones will be shocked to learn, that we arrived at Craven Cottage full of hope on that occasion but lost 6-0 and were relegated with ignominy.
It would be good to gain revenge this time.