Norwich 2, Cardiff 0
Alan Gow proved that fresh faces may just be what Norwich City need as he inspired a vital Carrow Road victory for the Canaries.The Scot was a breath of fresh air in a season in which so much has been stale, adding a touch of guile, a hint of something different that has been so sadly lacking.
Alan Gow proved that fresh faces may just be what Norwich City need as he inspired a vital Carrow Road victory for the Canaries.
The Scot was a breath of fresh air in a season in which so much has been stale, adding a touch of guile, a hint of something different that has been so sadly lacking.
It was he who, in partnership with David Mooney, lit the blue touch paper on a performance which could well turn the survival tide in Norwich's favour, as long as they don't go and do what they did at the weekend and follow a good performance with a bad one.
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Victory over Cardiff has to be followed by one over Plymouth on Saturday - and if Gow - on loan from Rangers - is involved, then there's a damned good chance it will happen.
It wasn't just Gow's own performance, it was way he teamed up with Mooney and the way that their enthusiasm and skills brushed off on the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Ryan Bertrand.
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Gow set up the opener for Mooney on 49 minutes and another exquisite touch gave Cody McDonald a debut goal, in time added on - three names that two months ago meant little to City fans, but who now could have played a massive part in the club's future.
Gunn put Gow and Mooney up front in place of Carl Cort and Hoolahan, who was switched to the left flank as Ryan Betrand dropped into the left back slot vacated by Jonathan Grounds.
The signs of what was to follow weren't evident in the early stages, with City a bundle of nerves - evident by a poor clearance by keeper David Marshall. When Chopra was flagged offside after a Hoolahan error gave him a sight of goal it was even more evident.
There were signs of life on eight minutes when Gow finished off a move involving Hoolahan and Russell which had Dimitrios Konstantopoulos scuttling down to his right to save.
Gow and Mooney were moving well in attack, but when Sammy Clingan put a crossfield pass straight out of play it summed up their problems - left to run around waiting for creative scraps from midfield.
Clingan was more like his old self on 16 minutes when Gow broke well, drew three Cardiff defenders, slipped the ball left to Hoolahan who drove a cross which found Clingan on the right of the area - but the Irishman's drilled shot was always rising.
Gow was causing problems for Cardiff at the back, his running and neat flicks helping warm up the atmosphere as City finally began to settle.
Hoolahan found Mooney running intelligently into the left channel, but support was lacking and it was left to Gow to come in and help. The picture was becoming clear - City's front pair had rather more brains than brawn. A brilliant piece of play by Gow saw him skin Darcy Blake in the area and then hit a curling shot with the outside of his left boot which flew just past the far post - a foot to the left and it would have been a goal-of-the-season contender.
It was Mooney's turn moments later, getting past Gyepes on the right of the area but poking a shot wide.
This, as they say, was more like it.
Fortunately, their effect appeared to be spreading and the expected threat from Cardiff was remarkably low-key. Ryan Bertrand and Hoolahan were forcing Blake to work overtime, but the right back limped off on
32 minutes, forcing Dave Jones into some reorganising, which left Paul Parry at right-back.
The Canaries maintained the momentum, although referee Trevor Kettle inspired chants of 'Are you D'Urso in disguise?' after he penalised Lee Croft twice in as many minutes for tackles which he deemed unfair.
Cardiff forced the first corner of the game four minutes before the break but the excellent Shackell pout his head then his leg in the way to stave off the danger.
Gavin Rae was just wide from distance as Norwich were made aware that, for all their domination, nothing is settled until the fat lady sings - and that you don't work your way up to fourth in the Championship without being at least half decent.
Cardiff woke up and should have been ahead at the break, Roger Johnson's effort from close range after a corner hitting Marshall full in the face.
Norwich's problem was that old, old chestnut - good work wasn't being turned into goals.
Their cause wasn't helped when they lost the inspirational Shackell to injury, which saw on-loan Adrian Leijer starting his first game, slotting straight in alongside Gary Doherty.
That concern was forgotten within moments as City attacked, although an offside flag muted some of the applause for a flowing move.
And when Mooney hit the back of the net it was totally forgotten: it started with Gow - who else? - who knocked it to Hoolahan on the halfway line. Hoolahan spotted Mooney on the run and found him with a ball that should have been the keeper's on the edge of his area. Both went for it with their feet, and it was Mooney who got there first, tapping it past Konstantopoulos and smashing it into the roof of an empty net.
Eddie Johnson gave City a reminder that the fat lady was still warming up with a flicked header from a Peter Whittingham free-kick that Marshall did well to save - but it didn't prevent Carrow Road from rocking.
Gow was still on fire up front, but it was evident that Hoolahan was revelling in his presence too: the pair of them traded passes at will.
Darel Russell almost benefited as Gow ghosted by two players and slipped a low ball on to the penalty spot.
Hearts were in mouths when Jon Otsemobor lost possession to Eddie Johnson, but as the striker headed for goal the City man managed to make up for his error with a tackle that referee Kettle let go - strange as similar challenges were being whistled left, right and centre.
Mr Kettle was consistent only in his inconsistency - fortunately Norwich weren't allowing it to frustrate them in an increasingly disciplined performance. Mooney went into the book for kicking the ball away - maybe all of two yards - and was close to getting a touch on a low Gow cross on 70 minutes.
Mooney left the field to a standing ovation on 75 minutes, with McDonald brought on for his debut and, presumably, with instructions to chase, harry and niggle the Cardiff defence.
Nerves were jangling as the clock wound down - the cheers when Michael Chopra put a free-kick wide were evident of that. Mr Kettle wasn't helping with one or two of football's more curious decisions, but City fans raised the temperature for the remaining minutes - and when McDonald raced through to Gow's pass in time added, rounded the keeper and tapped the ball home, the fat lady was in full voice as well.
t City: Marshall, Otsemobor, Doherty, Shackell (Leijer 45), Bertrand, Croft (Carney 85), Russell, Clingan, Hoolahan, Mooney (McDonald 75), Gow. Subs not used: Nelson, Lappin.
t Cardiff: Konstantopoulos, Blake (Owusu-Abeyie 32), Gyepes, Roger Johnson, Capaldi (McCormack 87), Whittingham (Burke 58), Ledley, Rae, Parry, Eddie Johnson, Chopra. Subs not used: Purse, McPhail.
t Attendance: 23,706