Breathing space we might be grateful for

Steve GedgeCome the release of the end-of-season compilation DVD it's not hard to expect that we'll get the goals from Saturday and not a lot else. Whether there was too much of an 'it's only Hartlepool' factor at work, on and off the field, I don't know, but it was the hardest of carved-out wins.Steve Gedge

Come the release of the end-of-season compilation DVD it's not hard to expect that we'll get the goals from Saturday and not a lot else.

Whether there was too much of an 'it's only Hartlepool' factor at work, on and off the field, I don't know, but it was the hardest of carved-out wins.

Hartlepool made life very difficult for City throughout, mopping up every loose ball, and it wasn't long before you sensed that we probably needed to fall behind to really get going.

For most of January we've been a second-half team, but that wasn't the case on Saturday, there was a lot of hanging-on and counting-down of minutes going on until the relief of the final whistle.


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We can't dominate in every game, and I think a few things caught up with us against Hartlepool.

Despite Paul Lambert playing it down in public, the absence of Grant Holt has led to an obvious loss of movement and flexibility up front.

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We're now facing some useful, determined sides who are keen to make the headlines of being the ones to end City's current amazing run.

And on Saturday I think the demands of three awkward games in eight days for the Canaries almost proved too much.

Brentford was hard enough, but Walsall three days later was even tougher, not least for the standard of the pitch, which was still showing the scars of attempts to get the game played on December 28.

But City clung on for an important win and take maximum home points in recent days - unlike Charlton.

And we now have given ourselves some important breathing space for an upcoming fixture which, I feel, could well bring an end to our unbeaten run.

Millwall are going well of late - 16 points from their last eight games - and have some very solid home form.

What with still probably smarting from a recent defeat at Carrow Road, I would say that this Saturday's fixture is the most tricky we will face in the final three months, together with the trip to Huddersfield.

Anything we get at The New Den is a bonus, but we've taken the pressure off ourselves by winning at Walsall.

Once Holt was sent off against Brentford, both Charlton and Leeds must have been rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of us losing our way. The fact that we'll have taken at least two-thirds of the points on offer during his absence must be proving very disheartening for them.

It also shows our determination. Collectively it was best seen when City equalised at Walsall. Stephen Hughes took the ball out of the net straight back to the centre circle. The team clearly hadn't come to the West Midlands for just the one point.

And individually the players that have come in for odd matches have all impressed.

You'd have been forgiven for thinking a fortnight ago that Cody McDonald was on his way out of the reckoning at Norwich, but within seconds of coming on at Walsall he won a corner and his goal showed the value of having not just one but two impact substitutes.

And as for Michael Rose... if a phrase best forgotten around Carrow Road way you'd almost be thinking that Lambert has a magic hat out of which he pulls all these new signings.

t Our new magic figure this season - 77.

That's the time of our breakthrough goals against Wycombe, Brentford and now Walsall last month.

Perhaps Paul Lambert can have it inscribed on his latest manager-of-the-month award...

t With all this talk of potential records being set this season, two more spring to mind:

Quite apart from the fact that we have now scored in 23 successive league games, we have so far been on target in all but one of our fixtures and you wonder how close we'll get to 45 this season.

And having beaten Colchester, Brentford and Walsall last month it leaves Charlton, Gillingham, Leeds, MK Dons, Southampton and Yeovil to go to be able to finish a season having defeated every other club in the division, and that's certainly something I can't imagine we've done before.

t SECOND TIME LUCKY . . .

One of the top away moments of the season came on Tuesday.

During the reading-out of the half-time scores at Walsall - and why we had to wait for the Premier League and Championship to be finished before attention was turned to our division I don't know - the announcer solemnly noted: 'It's Swindon nil, Leeds nil.'

Which was swiftly greeted by chants of 'You don't know what you're doing' and 'You're not fit to read the scores', before he blamed the computer and then somewhat sheepishly admitted that he was now informed that it was actually 1-0.

Top stuff, which the man behind the mic took very well, and I imagine doesn't happen at the likes of half-full Coventrys or Prestons.

t CITY CAN'T BE BLAMED FOR AWAY FANS' WOE

Another Saturday, another opposition fans' message board full of complaints about their club not being given the 'supposed 2,000 seats that visitors are promised' at Carrow Road.

I feel very sorry for anyone who made a trip from Hartlepool on Saturday only to not get in, but is that solely Norwich's fault?

Hartlepool staff, well aware that they had an allocation of only 450, are under an obligation to know their customer base and be able to judge how many fans travel to big away games.

And if they state on their website that tickets are available on the gate on the day, then it's their responsibility when things go wrong.

I think for every remaining home game this season City should make it quite clear to their opponents' ticket office that: 'This is the exact number of seats you are getting, can you please specify that. It's nothing against your club, but we will probably sell out for every game and with such a high proportion of season-ticket holders Carrow Road is not the kind of ground that you can pay on the day to get into.'

No one has a gripe against Brighton: they make it perfectly clear about their ticket limitations, and so should we. No other club in this division fills around 80pc of their ground with season-ticket holders, and visiting clubs have to be aware of this.

Besides, both Brentford and Hartlepool, in recent years, have been in the play-offs to win promotion to the Championship.

What would have happened if they'd gone up? Do they think that most clubs in that division would, once the away end was full, let visiting supporters sit in with home fans? Hardly.

Look, I would love a world in which, on a Saturday morning, I could spontaneously decide to go to any game I wanted, but football just isn't like that any more. If I set off for any away match now I either have a ticket in advance or am 100pc certain I can get in on the day.

And in any case, my club is millions of pounds in debt. If it's a choice between leaving plenty of seats empty just on the slightest of off-chance that someone might make a last-minute decision to travel down from the North-East or that they are sold to home fans guaranteeing ticket income then I know which I would choose.

t And before anyone tries to link this situation to that of the Colchester v City game, just look at the size of the crowd for last Tuesday's East Anglian derby (copyright BBC Late Kick Off) for the visit of MK Dons - 3,601. Those newly-acquired supporters have quickly lost interest, haven't they?

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