Lansbury joins fray to spark late goal rush
NORWICH CITy 3, BRISTOL CITY 1: Two goals in the dying stages of the game shook Carrow Road to its foundations last night as the Canaries rubber stamped their credentials as automatic promotion candidates.
City certainly do things differently – a goal after two minutes, then a stunning finale inspired by substitute Henri Lansbury – although with City's record we should perhaps take such drama as a matter of course.
Norwich got off to the best possible start, awarded a penalty after just 44 seconds which Grant Holt duly slammed home for goal number 149 of his career. Lansbury and Andrew Surman then struck at the death to ease the nerves caused by Albert Adomah's equaliser and send the Canaries into second spot and leaving the home faithful chanting 'QPR, we're coming to get you'.
City had been keen to urge home fans to get behind them last night, to intimidate the visitors – and the crowd responded from start to finish.
The task for City was to take advantage of the slip-ups of their major rivals. Even with a blank Saturday, City were making headway as Swansea, Cardiff, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Burnley all dropped points.
Someone has to grasp the nettle – and City let no one down.
Simeon Jackson struck twice in the reverse fixture in the West Country earlier in the season and was given a chance to repeat the feat as he stepped in for Aaron Wilbraham, who played through the pain of a back problem at Leicester last week – in an otherwise unchanged starting XI.
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City went into the game unbeaten in six outings, and defeated only once in 11 – although they were hoping to avoid a third successive home draw.
The start that every team dreams of came after Holt had headed on Zak Whitbread's long ball, Jackson chested it down and Wes Hoolahan was upended in the area by Liam Fontaine.
Hoolahan stepped aside again to allow Holt to do the honours – just as he did at Leicester – and almost took the net out as he blasted the ball past David James, who didn't stand an earthly. Lesson one on how to take spot kicks.
It was just the second time City had scored inside the opening 10 minutes – Russell Martin did it against QPR.
David Fox tested James with a volley after Andrew Surman's corner was only half cleared as City pressed for a quick second, with the visitors looking stunned
Robins' danger man Nicky Maynard settled a few nerves with a good left foot curler from the edge of the area, although John Ruddy wasn't stretched in making the save.
Robins midfielder Kalifa Cisse was fortunate to escape punishment for fouls on Hoolahan and Marc Tierney in quick succession – and soon after referee Craig Boyeson had booked right-back Jordan Spence for bringing down Andrew Surman.
Jackson did well to get a low cross in from the right after 24 minutes, which Hoolahan laid off to Crofts. He tried to curl one around Jamesbut the former England keeper was perfectly positioned.
Maynard hooked a cross from David Clarkson wide but the visitors were rarely troubling Ruddy, with most of the play in their own half.
With half an hour gone, City were starting to edge it on points, Fox spraying the ball well and Jackson making some intelligent runs as play moved closer and closer to James' goal.
Holt sliced a difficult chance wide after a period of sustained pressure – and when Bristol did get a sniff of an attack, Elliott Ward and Whitbread were tough nuts to crack.
Jackson came within inches of getting the goal he deserved after Crofts' ball found the overlapping Russell Martin, who almost put it on a plate for the striker, with James unable to gather.
There was a scare at the other end when Albert Adomah got past Ward and fired in a left-foot effort which Ruddy beat away for a corner.
City were worth their half-time lead but Adomah's shot was proof that they wouldn't be able to rest comfortably without widening the margin.
City were keen to start the second half the same way they had the first, and James almost helped them when he flapped at a Surman cross from the left – fortunately for him there was no-one to take advantage.
Jackson's turned on the after-burners as he chased Surman's ball into the left side of the area and while he managed to flick it past the on-rushing James, he couldn't get the pace on it to make it dangerous and Bristol cleared.
Moments laterAdomah again made Ruddy work with a fine run and shot which the City man did well to keep out.
Holt almost doubled City's lead after he was set up by Surman, but his goalbound shot hit the heels of Stephen Caulker, who seemed unaware of his intervention, and drifted away from goal.
Fontaine then repeated the trick as Holt tried to knock the ball in at the far post and then prevented Martin getting a shot in after Holt had looped it over his head. Tierney then saw an effort blocked while Crofts hit a magnificent long-range effort which dipped and turned but ultimately cleared James' bar by an inch.
Hoolahan teed up Surman, but there was no-one to finish off his low cross – and then City were hit by a sucker punch.
Substitute Jamal Campbell-Ryce broke clear, had options left and right, and went right, where Adomah took advantage as Surman slipped to slide the ball past Ruddy, who got something, but not enough, on the shot.
The equaliser came after a fine spell of attacking by City, but there was to be no margin for error in front of goal if City were to take the points.
Another sub, Brett Pitman, forced Ruddy to get down low to smother a shot from the edge of the area, while at the other end Crofts tried to curl one over James from distance after the keeper came way out of his area.
It was a case of the next goal would win it – neither side was happy to settle for a draw.
James produced his best stop of the night when he bravely blocked Crofts' shot after Fox's 77th-minute corner – moments later, as City prepared to take a free-kick, he required treatment, much to the annoyance of the home supporters.
Jackson made way for Henri Lansbury after 81 minutes and he was quickly involved in a move which saw Hoolahan chip the ball into the area, but a diving Holt failed to get good contact on the ball.
Lansbury had had to watch for all but the final stages but when is chance came he took it brilliantly, latching on to Hoolahan's flick and shrugging off a challenge in the area to acrobatically slam it past James with a minute of normal time to go.
Bristol were shell-shocked and in stoppage time, Caulker was caught in possession by Lansbury wide on the left, Surman picked up the loose ball, headed towards James and slotted it through his legs from a narrow angle to rattle the foundations on a terrific night at Carrow Road.