Norwich City 2, Nottingham Forest 1
Norwich City picked up a priceless three points in a exhilarating victory over an impressive Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road.
In a way, it was a shame only the final score really mattered on an evening of fantastic football fare.
Or maybe that is only a sentiment for Forest fans, who saw their side probe with a style not often seen at Carrow Road over the last two seasons.
As for the City faithful, they would have taken a scrappy 1-0 win. At this stage of the season, it's the minimum requirement.
Factor in the Canaries kicking off a day ahead of their promotion rivals as the Sky cameras came calling again, and the result could not have taken on any more significance.
Yet every one of the 26,188 fans crammed into a buzzing Carrow Road was treated to exactly that – a football treat.
The buzz was helped by the team-sheets, as City welcomed back Wes Hoolahan from a two-game absence.
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In fact, physio Neal Reynolds clearly has the knack of curing hamstring strains – with influential skipper Grant Holt also recovering just in time for City's early weekend. Loanees Sam Vokes and Dani Pacheco made way.
Forest made three changes of their own, with Nathan Tyson, David McGoldrick and Kris Byod recalled into a rejigged formation that matched up City's diamond midfield.
It is not only results that count at this stage of the season, of course, but luck too.
City were looking for their first win in three – but after three minutes would have rightly questioned whether the football gods had it in for them for this particular run-in as the hard working Tyson scored a fluke of an opener.
Maybe City goalkeeper John Ruddy could have side-footed the aimless long ball Tyson was chasing down – but that would have required hindsight.
What Carrow Road witnessed was the keeper smash the ball into Tyson's thigh – 99 times out of 100, the ball loops into the stand.
But this was the exception, as the ball arrowed for Ruddy's unguarded net and Carrow Road almost choked on the cool evening air.
The sight of Tyson completing a couple of pirouettes as he looked for the ball before wheeling off to celebrate said it all.
It was a blow that could have knocked a side with insecurities for six – especially at a time in the season when wobbles are all the rage. But not this Canaries' side – they are made of sterner stuff.
Simeon Jackson, handed a rare start following his equaliser at Watford in midweek, was causing problems with his pace – while City's first corner brought loud and extremely reasonable appeals for a penalty as Wes Morgan took to the floor and blocked Elliott Ward's drive with his arm.
However, City were level with only 10 minutes on the clock. Hoolahan's trickery earned a free-kick that David Fox whipped in from the right with delight. It was too good for the Forest defence, as Holt outjumped Guy Moussi and headed past a stranded Lee Camp and inside the far post.
His 20th league goals this season, and Carrow Road sighed in relief.
Back came Forest in a first half of high entertainment, driven by a player in Lewis McGugan who deserves top flight football – with or without Forest.
Brendan Maloney broke forward to drive low and wide of Ruddy's near post as the visitors pressed and switched play with confidence.
Then it was City's turn, Andrew Surman turning and clipping a delicate effort just beyond the far post, with Forest's ex-City loanee wrong footed.
The game was a cracker – and City were just about edging it, if only on chances. McGugan toasted Martin on the by-line before City just about cleared the danger, seconds later and Jackson could only look on as Camp's fingertips held the ball in the air long enough for him to recover – and prevent the in-form striker from tucking into an open goal.
Moussi was next to go close, rattling the inside of Ruddy's post. Normally a hard luck story – but maybe repayment for Ruddy's earlier misfortune.
Forest were looking to press – only for Boyd to slump in the centre circle with an injury. After minutes of treatment, the striker surprisingly continued – but the break seemed to knock the visitors' attention, and Surman took full advantage.
Seven minutes before the break, Jackson's brilliant leap found Holt and with Moloney and Moussi static, Surman ran through the gap and took one touch to coolly slot past the keeper.
Konchesky was booked for his arguments with the linesman – a call replays showed was correct, and a booking the full-back would come to regret, as he sliced through Surman in the dying moments to rightly receive his marching orders.
In truth, despite the nerves clearly in evidence around Carrow Road – no doubt inspired by this time of year – City kept Forest to a handful of half chances, as a pulsating game continued to intrigue. McGugan's free-kick somehow reached Ruddy's chest without a touch along the way, while Jackson found both Camp's feet and the outside of his post as a well-deserved goal eluded him.
Tyson drove a decent chance well wide as time ticked away, while Holt was within a hair on his forehead of putting away Lansbury's corner
Konchesky blocked Surman's low drive – the defender's last legitimate action of the evening, and more than five minutes of injury time were seen out with relative ease – a little out of character given such an absorbing Championship contest.
But in reality, the performance and impressive character still came second to the result. Which means Cardiff, Swansea and Reading – it's over to you.
• Norwich City: Ruddy, Russell Martin, Ward, Whitbread, Tierney, Crofts, Fox (Lansbury, 60), Surman, Hoolahan (Lappin, 78), Holt, Jackson (Edwards, 90). Subs (not used): Rudd, McNamee, Vokes, Pacheco.
• Forest: Camp, Konchesky, Morgan, Chambers, Moloney, Moussi (Gunter, 50), McKenna, McGugan, McGoldrick, Tyson (Earnshaw, 73), Boyd (Tudgay, 45). Subs (not used): Darlow, Adebola, Majewski, Bennett.
• Attendance: 26,188
• Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)