Lambert’s Norwich City heroes are back in the big time
PORTSMOUTH 0, NORWICH CITY 1: The dream is reality – Norwich City are back where they belong.
The Canaries will grace the Premier League next season – thanks to Simeon Jackson's ninth goal in his last seven games – two years after a once proud football club was practically on its knees.
A dreadful day at Charlton saw them tumble into League One, humiliated, unloved, an embarrassment to their angry fans. Changes had to be made, and they were: a new chief executive, a new chairman and a new manager in Paul Lambert.
The Scot took little time in sweeping the place clean and bringing in new faces.
Within a year Lambert had restored a huge chunk of the pride with a League One title. Last night he achieved what many believed was impossible – the Premier League and the massive amounts of money that go with it.
You may also want to watch:
For a club �20m in debt, promotion is, to use the word footballers and managers love so much, massive.
The success has owned much to the second half of the season, when City turned on the after-burners and scorched into second place – Scunthorpe were hammered 6-0, rivals Forest beaten at Carrow Road. Ipswich were obliterated in front of their own fans and then Derby fell to a trademark late, late sucker punch.
- 1 'Too close to home': Neighbours' shock as body found at Mousehold Heath
- 2 Which? warning to avoid sun cream brand for children
- 3 Poultry company owner says food industry is at 'crisis point'
- 4 Chicken restaurant closes 'due to unforeseen circumstances'
- 5 Lifeboat crew rescues three girls out to sea on lilos
- 6 Noise investigation launched after works leave houses 'tremoring'
- 7 What are the top 10 new shops opening in Norwich?
- 8 New beauty salon and massage rooms open at country club
- 9 'Like an invasion' - locals speak out over five-day festival
- 10 'Cold and desolate' - Anne Robinson's Countdown jibe at Norfolk
Holt has led by example – 20 goals another magnificent return – while Jackson has, as they say, been on fire.
More than anything, Lambert has got it right on so many occasions.
Lambert named the same starting line-up which has served him well for the previous three games – the wish was the same results.
With their fate, and future, firmly in their hands after Cardiff's shock home defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough there was only one instruction – 'wrap it up tonight'.
There were no clues on the faces of the City players as they walked out as to whether anyone knew how the Bluebirds had capitulated in the earlier kick-off: the guess was that they knew exactly what was needed – with 3,000 or more City fans behind one goal in full voice it was perhaps difficult not to know how close the Premier League was.
Kick-off was met with a huge crescendo of noise – perhaps Holt heard bells after Aaron Mokoena slammed his elbow into the top of his head in the first aerial challenge.
David Fox's free-kick hit Kanu on the back, but Zak Whitbread, with the goal at his mercy, headed wide from just a few yards out – a terrific chance gone.
Andrew Crofts released Jackson moments later, but the in-form striker went to ground under challenge from Greg Halford.
It was a purposeful start by City, who were playing into a blustery wind at Fratton Park.
After seven minutes former Ipswich player Herman Hreidarsson tangled with Holt, then kicked out at him – but referee Andy D'Urso not only failed to do the right thing and send him off, the Icelander got away without even a yellow card.
Jackson then got away from Mokoena down the left, but was chopped down by the Pompey defender – this time prompting Mr D'Urso to produce a yellow. Andrew Crofts headed the free-kick over, but the question was: how were Pompey still at full complement?
Jackson's speed was causing problems, although there was no one there to finish his square ball after Ritchie De Laet had gifted possession to City.
Halford's long throws were causing problems in the City area, and in the opening stages appeared Pompey's best weapon, but Ward and Whitbread looked comfortable enough.
If Pompey were hoping to give their noisy home fans a rousing goodbye to the season, then City were too stubborn to join in the party: it was no time for niceties. If it was going to be a hard grind, so be it.
Hreiderasson finally made it into the book when he tugged Crofts' shirt – after the City man had chased back and regained possession. It wasn't before time.
Ward almost followed for bringing down Carl Dickinson – D'Urso awarded the free-kick but it was clear that the Pompey man had tripped himself.
Ward came close to putting City ahead on 35 minutes when he back-headed Fox's free-kick from the right but saw the ball fall just past the far post – on attacking commitment alone City were on top, more adventurous and with more alternatives to their game than their hosts, who were restricting goalkeeper John Ruddy to a watching brief – he didn't have a single shot to worry about in the first half.
His opposite number wasn't quite so lucky and on 39 minutes was fortunate to flick the ball away from when Holt, who had controlled Fox's cross into the heart of the area before, flicked it past Mokoena, but couldn't quite wrap his foot around a shot.
City will have felt hard done by at the break – but the second half would see them kicking towards their own fans, and it's been known to make a difference in the past.
It was now time for City to turn the opportunities into goals, and they would have been heartened by the sight of Mokoena and his keeper, Jamie Ashdown arguing over an early clearance.
Moments later Jackson was sent scampering clear down the left channel by Holt, but clipped his shot his shot past the far post – the home fans jeered, but City had come out of the traps quickly.
The break had to come – and with five minutes of the half gone that man Jackson struck again. Crofts brought a pass down beautifully on the right flank, knocked it inside to Fox, who looked up and played a lovely deep cross to the far post where Jackson beat De Laet and dived to head past Ashdown.
There was a certain inevitability about the goal and the identity of the scorer. The fans behind the goal chanted his name – his story was fast becoming the stuff of heroes.
It brought Pompey out of their shell, with Dickinson's shot blocked and then Crofts forced to head clear from close in. City hit back, Russell Martin forcing Ashdown to turn a shot around his left post as the tempo rose.
Ward blocked a Jonathan Hogg effort for Pompey's first corner of a game that was far from over. Had Kanu got a touch to David Nugent's shot then Ruddy might not have been able to scoop it away and relieve some of the pressure that was beginning to build.
But City have got to where they are courtesy of cool heads in the face of adversity and soon they were back on the attack, Marc Tierney making strides into the area, but Jackson unable to turn his low cross past the keeper.
Pompey came again, but City's back four held firm time and again.
Again City went forward, passing the ball well and stretching Pompey across the pitch. It was good controlled football by a side that knows exactly how good it is. The fans may have been nervous, but as the clocked ticked down to the final whistle, the belief emerged in their songs as they lauded their manager. And rightly so. There were a few scares on the way, but City survived to fight another, massive, day in the biggest league of them all.