What a difference a win makes
Paul Lambert rang the changes at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday and his boldness was rewarded with a good performance from his revamped team, and, perhaps more importantly, with the first win of the season.
In their four previous matches in the top flight this season the Canaries had played well without gaining the points that their performances deserved. Older supporters like me were only too aware that it took 14 games to achieve a first victory during City’s last season in the Premiership (in 2004-5), so the result at the Reebok was arguably even more significant than the performance.
As expected, Ruddy replaced Rudd in the City goal after serving his one match ban. Perhaps less predictably, Russell Martin joined Barnett at centre back, and de Laet was on the bench.
In midfield Hoolahan (who wore the captain’s armband), Fox and Pilkington started at the expense of Crofts and Surman, who were on the bench. And few would have predicted that Holt and Chris Martin would both be on the bench with Morison taking the lone striker’s role, and Hoolahan supporting him. Both Bennett and Pilkington played as wide men.
The opening exchanges were even steven, although Barnett was lucky not to be punished by referee Howard Webb for a challenge on Klasnic that was both high and late. But the game really exploded into life after 37 minutes. City took the lead from a corner taken by Fox, which Barnett headed down, Morison nudged back into the six yard box, and Pilkington prodded home from close range for his first goal for Norwich.
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Five minutes later City doubled their lead. Fox was again the provider, taking a free kick from the right hand side, which Johnson headed home for his first goal in Norwich colours.
The drama continued in first-half injury time when Klasnic squared up to Tierney in the Norwich penalty area and appeared to head butt the City defender, who went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes, clutching his eye. Howard Webb responded by flourishing a red card at Klasnic.
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In the second half the Trotters replaced Tuncay and Kevin Davies with Ngog and Eagles. Morison had to go off the pitch for treatment after a clash with Knight left him bloody, but soon returned to the fray.
Norwich remained in control, but this season none of our games is complete without a penalty being awarded against us. It duly arrived in the 64th minute when Barnett challenged Ngog for a cross from the right hand side. Yet again the contact seemed minimal, but yet again the ref pointed straight to the spot and Petrov duly slotted home.
After this week’s spot kick both sides then had chances, one of which was missed by Morison. After 77 minutes Holt and Vaughan (seemingly recovered from his split lip) replaced Pilkington and Morison, and five minutes from time Hoolahan hobbled off to be replaced by Crofts.
The drama continued during the four minutes of added time, as Holt was booked for time wasting, chipping the ball into the empty net after the whistle had gone, and Ruddy made a vital save from Ngog’s header at the death to deny Bolton a point, and more importantly ensure that City went home with all three points.
The City manager would probably not admit (in public at least) that he was worried at the lack of a victory so far, nor that he was worried about the team’s lowly position (17th) in the League as the teams kicked off. But I am sure he was mightily pleased with the result. Not only did City achieve their first win of the current campaign, it was their first away win in the top flight for 17 years. It lifted them into a mid-table position.
It will boost their confidence, and will give both the players and the fans a lift. As the final whistle blew, the Bolton fans were groaning, the Canary fans (including Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls) were singing, monkeys were jumping off backs, and elephants were leaving the room.
So congratulations to the Canaries on finishing the game with eleven men on the pitch, and on their first victory and three point haul this season. Special congratulations to Paul Lambert for his bold selection decisions.
Tierney is the only Canary to have started all our games so far. We could argue long into the night about whether de Laet deserved to be dropped. He has made some important interceptions and shown some delaetful touches, but has also made a couple of simple errors which have been punished. Barnett too has been guilty of giving away penalties and goals through simple errors. It will be interesting to see who is selected at centre-back against Sunderland, Man Utd, and Liverpool. I suppose it depends who is fit.
It will be equally interesting to see who plays upfront. Does Lambert go for the strength of Holt and Chris Martin or the pace of Morison, Vaughan, and perhaps Jackson.
In Lambert we trust... to get these decisions right, as he did at Bolton. More of the same please Paul, and a first home victory against Sunderland next Monday.