Fortune once again favours the brave

NORWICH CITY 1, QPR 0: If there is one thing that sums up Paul Lambert's 16 months or so reign at Carrow Road, it's his insistence on taking the game to the opposition, attempting to get City on to the front foot as soon as possible, and ensuring they stay there.

It's been a trait which has served City well, even in the face of adversity, which was certainly the case with Saturday's game against QPR.

When Lambert was asked whether he had made a brave decision by selecting Grant Holt, Aaron Wilbraham, Chris Martin and Wes Hoolahan against the league leaders, the answer wasn't just that he thought he needed to fight fire with fire: it was the fact that those who wore the green and yellow with such aplomb were actually the last men standing.

Stephen Hughes, Andrew Surman, David Fox, Simon Lappin, Leon Barnett, Elliott Ward, Steven Smith, Henri Lansbury – that's the list of unavailable players, through injury or suspension.

On top of that you add in Zak Whitbread and Adam Drury, who by rights should have been with the rest of them in the stands, but were asked to play because their injuries were behind them, even though 'minutes in the bag' weren't.

Beating the leaders is one thing, doing it in such style is another – but managing to achieve such a success with the bare bones of a squad will surely rank this as possibly the finest performance by a Norwich City team under Paul Lambert. And anyone who was there will tell you it could have been even better.

The response of the players who were asked to do a job against the odds was magnificent.

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Michael Nelson was a rock at the back, while Zak Whitbread shook off a few early cobwebs to illustrate just why Lambert brought him to the club a year ago – two blocks in the penalty area late on when Rangers were throwing everything at the City goal exemplified the obvious class. Drury looked like he'd never been away – his return was even greeted with the traditional 'where am I?' moment after a free-kick hit him bang in the face.

The question Lambert has to answer now is whether it's asking too much of them to go again at Middlesbrough this afternoon – although he does have the safety net of knowing that Leon Barnett and Simon Lappin will be available.

There is no doubting the ability that the City players have, but it's the attitude that goes with it which is vital. Take Grant Holt, for example. He defended from the front, he wore out his studs covering every blade of grass, fighting for every loose ball and generally was the biggest nuisance around – which is perhaps why Neil Warnock laid into him after the game, a false smile on his face hardly disguising the contempt he had for Holt's actions in getting one of his defenders sent off.

It was referee Jon Moss he was trying to criticise, for missing what Warnock said was a deliberate handball by Holt – the subsequent action, when Holt cut across Matt Connolly, who clipped his heels and saw red for denying the City man a genuine goal-scoring opportunity, was fair enough.

So why suggest Holt was resorting to gamesmanship? Why say 'today he has got one of my lads sent off, which probably ended up winning them the game'? Holt didn't get Connolly sent off – Connolly did.

That incident came at the start of the second half, by which time City had been ahead for some considerable time, thanks to Russell Martin's ninth-minute goal, following up to fire home after Chris Martin's shot after some excellent footwork had been blocked.

Rangers almost levelled within a minute, Heider Helguson benefiting from Whitbread's poor headed clearance and forcing keeper John Ruddy down low to his right.

Adel Taarabt was, not surprisingly, the thorn in the side of City, but neither Andrew Crofts nor Korey Smith let him have too much time on the ball, Whenever Taarabt touched it, one or both of the City midfielders was soon in with a challenge.

The problem with having Taarabt in your side is that as good as he can be one day, he can be terrible another. He wasn't terrible on Saturday, although his free-kick attempts weren't good: his style resembles Ronaldo; the execution was more like Ronald McDonald. And as City frustrated him, so he scattered his toys around the pitch, culminating in a kick out at Smith and the shepherd's crook from Warnock, who had presumably seen enough of his playmaker's sulks to know that he was safer taking him off before he got into more serious trouble.

That's where the attitude thing comes in: City had it in abundance, and Rangers couldn't quite match it.

Wilbraham looped a shot over the bar and had the ball in the net after Nelson had headed Wes Hoolahan's free-kick across the face of goal, but Jamie Mackie's goal-line clearance had hit the new boy on the hand and the raised flag ended his hopes of a scoring debut.

City's passing was slick, Hoolahan was up to his old tricks, while on the right-hand side Russell Martin was leaving Clint Hill in knots as he rampaged down the flank.

The Rangers man ended up with a yellow card for fouling Martin and it was perhaps no surprise he didn't reappear after the break – he'd had a nightmare.

Patrick Agyemang was asked to mix it up at the front for the visitors and he almost won a penalty when Crofts upended him – an inch outside the area. With Taarabt about you'd usually says it was a dangerous one to conceded, but his wastefulness and Drury's face made it safe.

Then, on 51 minutes, came the red card. Yes, replays will show Holt used his arm, but compare that to Taarabt's kick out at Smith. Which is worse? Which is going to do the most harm? Which is the nastiest?

It's the second time in a week Holt has been at the centre of controversy. John Carver moaned that he had bought a penalty when City beat Sheffield United 4-2 last Tuesday.

Most of us thought it was soft, but it's up to the referee to get the decision right and if they can't spot it whose fault is that?

Chris Martin was denied by Kenny from the resulting free-kick while Hoolahan's follow-up was blocked.

A word about Hoolahan too: for all the tricks and passing, the way he got back to defend – like sliding to blocked Alejandro Faurlin's shot – was highly commendable.

The defenders may well have been blowing through their ears in the latter stages, but that's when City's character showed through again.

Kenny denied Chris Martin again at the end of a flowing move, but the danger of a one-goal lead against Rangers was almost proved when Agyemang headed just wide.

Whitbread blocked a Mackie shot and then, on his backside, flicked the ball away from Agyemang.

Chris Martin had yet another chance to make it safe but was again prevented by Kenny – the City man was shoulder some of the blame for not making it a more comfortable final 15 minutes for City fans.

So City began 2011 the way they ended 2010 – with a win. Last year they won more games in the Football League than any other team.

That's some going – even for a healthy squad.