A Premier goal for Norwich City to cap Premier show
BARNSLEY 0, NORWICH CITY 2: Andrew Crofts' name had probably never been mentioned in the same breath as that of Justin Fashanu, but as from 3.40pm on Saturday, they had a common link.
When Crofts, a step or two inside the Barnsley penalty area, took one touch to set up Wes Hoolahan's pass, no one expected the swivel, followed by the left foot shot, followed by the net bulging.
When they got it, comparisons with Fashanu's wonderful goal at Carrow Road against Liverpool in February, 1980, came to the minds of many.
For Hoolahan read John Ryan. For Crofts read Fashanu. For Luke Steele read Ray Clemence.
There are slight differences –Fashanu was a yard outside the area rather than inside it, and his first touch moved it further away from him, before the left-foot piledriver.
Fashanu's graced the old First Division against the champions elect; Crofts' was in the Championship but every bit as worthy of the top flight.
Fashanu's became BBC Goal of the Season; Crofts' won't because football has changed so much in the last 31 years that even a mediocre Premier League goal will be screened dozens of times for the prawn sandwich fans, while Crofts' original will be shown a couple of times for the sandwich classes and then consigned to the back of a cupboard.
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If the goal was worthy of the Premiership, are City? At the moment they are doing more than a passing impression of a team, a club, that is going places. This was perhaps one of the more comfortable afternoons they will have this season, pushing the 3-0 away win against Bristol City in October and the 4-1 demolition derby win over Ipswich in November for comfort.
With a dozen games to play and fourth-placed City three points off second spot, it's hard not to discuss the 'P' word. You do so at your peril in front of Paul Lambert. But if ever there was a carrot to dangle in front of someone like Crofts, who a year ago was playing League One football with Brighton, then the Premiership is it. Perhaps that's what the manager does behind the closed doors of Colney. He readily admits that he tells his players one thing and the rest of us something else, but there are some things you can't hide; like away day performances like this.
With more than 2,000 City fans making Oakwell a home from home, City were quickly into their stride. They had to survive one early scare, when Goran Lovre almost benefited from David Fox's intervention, which forced the ball up into the air invitingly for the Serbian to head goalwards from six yards or so – and then watch John Ruddy athletically palm it over for a corner.
It was the only time Ruddy was truly troubled – but seeing him grab every cross and use all of his area to cut out danger breeds a certain confidence in a back four which rarely broke sweat.
Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread were commanding, leaving you to wonder how Garry O'Connor was once the subject of a seven-figure transfer fee.
It was a back four which included Marc Tierney, with Lambert resting the 32-year-old thighs of Adam Drury, whose body has been beaten and battered over the years and may now be coming to the stage where it needs a little bit more management that it once did.
Tierney starting, Drury on the bench is not a bad option. And, just as Drury did for Grant Holt in midweek against Doncaster, Tierney proved an admirable assistant for goals.
Hoolahan and David Fox had already had a few sighters with long-range efforts which didn't really trouble Steele, but a goal was almost inevitable given City's control of the game.
Barnsley lost right-back Bobby Hassell to a calf injury early on, which prompted a reshuffle, and it was down that side that Tierney provided the opening for Crofts' first.
Andrew Surman – starting for the first time in three months – nodded a loose ball down to Tierney, who saw Crofts' run into the area, put the cross over Paul McShane and on to his team-mate's head.
Crofts' header crashed into the ground and bounced up into the roof of the net – although had a large cloud not decided to drop its entire contents on Oakwell half an hour earlier, his effort might just have bounced over.
Hassell had been replaced by Marlon Harewood, signed on loan from Blackpool on the morning.
It was meant to be something of a coup, but if ever there was proof that big names and reputations don't always count for anything, this was it: his first effort from a Lovre cut-back from the right was so far off target that it went for a throw-in, much to the joy of the travelling contingent.
Barnsley lost former City centre-half Jason Shackell after an accidental clash of heads with Henri Lansbury, which left the home skipper minus two front teeth, which groundstaff were searching for after the final whistle.
It was while he was off the field and before Jim O'Brien had come on as a replacement that City struck again. Curiously, when the teams met at Carrow Road in September, Shackell was off the field receiving treatment when City equalised, before going on to win 2-1.
There were few moments to remember from the second half, as City did enough to prevent Barnsley from ever getting anything like a foothold in the game.
Danny Haynes, so often the scourge of City teams in the past, proved that fleet of foot needs to be complemented by footballing skills – he was quick, but ineffective.
On the couple of occasions he did get through, Ward was there to stop him. Harewood made life a little more difficult for the excellent Whitbread, but aside from one header which Ruddy easily caught, did little.
Referee Eddie Ilderton kept himself clear of controversy, although he did manage to annoy in the first half when, poorly positioned, he was pushed out of the way by Hoolahan as he tried to get a shot in, and then frustrated the same player when he was clearly tugged back by Diego Arismendi when clear down the left.
Hoolahan strayed offside as three City players broke against one Barnsley defender and Holt, who had missed an opportunity in the first half after taking the ball too wide of Steele, might have got the goal his display deserved in the final minute, only to see the keeper stand up tall and beat the ball away.
After a tough week against Yorkshire teams it was perhaps understandable and acceptable that City didn't bust a gut to improve their goal difference – the three points were in the bag long before the final whistle went.
They now have a week to prepare for the home game against struggling Preston, by which time there may be a new addition to the squad.
The emergency loan period is 93 days, and, from now on, anyone who comes in will be here until the play-offs.
A knockout finale to the season may be subject to a Norwich City D Notice, but there are plenty who are blowing the play-off trumpet.