Norwich City are hitting new heights on road
LEICESTER CITY 2, NORWICH CITY 3: Norwich City have enjoyed some fine away days this season – but perhaps none more so than at the Walkers Stadium on Tuesday night.
A win over Sven-Goran Eriksson's expensively created Leicester side was not only hugely valuable in their chase for promotion, but as thoroughly deserved as any they have enjoyed this season.
Wes Hoolahan put Saturday's penalty horror behind him with a rare headed goal midway through the first half and then let skipper Grant Holt take over spot-kicking duties to put City ahead for a second time early in the second period, after Richie Wellens had quickly equalised for the hosts.
Aaron Wilbraham went on to score his first goal in City colours just before the hour mark to give them a two-goal lead that they never looked like giving up, with Paul Gallagher's stoppage-time goal making the final scoreline a little flattering to the hosts.
City boss Paul Lambert switched his side – and the formation – around, with Henri Lansbury on the bench and Wilbraham recalled to partner Holt up front in the oft-used diamond formation, Hoolahan dropping back to its peak.
Leicester boss Eriksson made one change to the team which went down to an unlucky 1-0 defeat at leaders Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, with Bruno Berner replacing Jeffrey Bruma, moving to left back with Ben Mee at centre-half.
With a big crowd behind them, Leicester kicked off, although Richie Wellens needed treatment in the opening seconds after he prevented Marc Tierney breaking into space down the City left.
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Kyle Naughton twice broke down the Leicester right in the opening minutes and it needed Elliott Ward to get his head and foot in the way each time to clear the danger.
On the other side, Darius Vassell forced Russell Martin to concede the first corner of the game after five minutes as Leicester went in search of an early breakthrough. Sol Bamba headed Matt Oakley's corner wide of John Ruddy's left post, but the City midfielder was much closer within minutes as he lofted a free-kick from a good 25 yards an inch over the bar and on to the roof of the net. Fox then had to be smart to head Bruno Berner cross away while Yakubu was only just wide from another of Oakley's corner which followed.
Fox was involved in plenty of the early play, upending Andy King with a late tackle which promoted some words of warning from referee Chris Foy.
Leicester's start was perhaps just what City were anticipating, but they slowly looked like they were drawing their hosts' sting.
And it was City who carved out the best of the early openings, after 15 minutes, Hoolahan finding Andrew Crofts, who had made a good run down the right before crossing low for Andrew Surman to strike goalwards from 12 yards, only for Bamba to get a vital block.
It marked the start of a decent little spell for the Canaries, in a game that had all the signs of being open and entertaining.
Ruddy had to get down to stop a Vassell shot in the 20th minute but it was food and drink for the City keeper. Not so at the far end after 21 minutes when Hoolahan, one of the smallest players on the pitch, headed City in front, nodding home Surman's corner from the right without a Leicester marker in sight.
But the lead was short-lived – three minutes later Berner crossed from the left and Wellens headed home from eight yards, Ruddy's hand unable to prevent the ball hitting the roof of the net.
Crofts could have put City back in front almost immediately, rising well but heading Surman's pinpoint cross over Ricardo's bar.
It was end to end stuff, with little respite, Ricardo looking nervous as he failed to punch away Hoolahan's deep cross and was fortunate not to punch it into his own goal.
The Walker's Stadium erupted in a mix of anger and frustration after 30 minutes when referee Foy stopped a Leicester attack after Hoolahan went down clutching his face after taking a pass from Yuki Abe in the face.
Yakubu should then have done a lot better for his reported �50,000 a week than get the ball stuck under his feet and shoot tamely into Ruddy's hand from eight yards.
Tierney's raking cross was flicked on by Surman and missed the far post – and Holt's slide – by just inches, while King strode forward but planted a half volley wide of Ruddy's left post.
King was again wasteful when, in space on the edge of the six-yard box, he headed Berner's cross harmlessly wide. Ruddy was fortunate with his own personal game of pinball in his area as the ball bounced into his hands two or three times before City cleared, before City went straight to the other end where Surman lofted a 20-yard effort just over.
Surman was closer a minute before half-time after Martin made good ground, chipped in towards Holt on the edge of the area, the big striker nodding it perfectly for Surman to pick his spot, although he was unable to get the ball past Ricardo, who smothered low to his left.
It was the last real effort of an excellent first half of football, and one which City were well worth their share of the plaudits.
What there wasn't was any sense that either side would have been happy with a point, setting up an enticing second half.
And within three minutes Hoolahan had set it up – breaking into the area after Crofts dummied Martin's low cross from the right and skipping past one challenge in the six-yard before he was upended by Ben Mee. Referee Foy looked twice at his assistant, who put the flag across his chest and City had a spot kick.
Hoolahan walked away, Holt stepped up – and after Ricardo had wandered forward and moved the ball off its spot, waited for his chance and blasted it past the Foxes keeper.
Hoolahan was almost in again three minutes later as he latched on to Holt's through ball, but Bamba got a boot in as he made his way into the area and cleared the danger.
It marked another good spell for City, who saw Surman glance a header wide from Holt's cross from the right.
The visitors were running Leicester ragged and in the 58th minute they got a vital third, Wilbraham scoring his first for the Canaries with a shot from eight yards that went in off the boot of Bamba.
It was just reward for the way they had dominated the early stages of the second half, and for the 2,235 City fans who made the trip it was turning into a party night.
Wilbraham forced Ricardo into a full-length save from 25 yards as City got a second wind, but it was clear they were happy to see out the game – and more than comfortable in doing so. It could have been even better, but Ricardo cut out Holt's low ball as he tried to tee up Wilbraham for a second.
It was textbook stuff at times – although judging by the number of blue seats that were evident 10 minutes before the end, it wasn't fully appreciated by the home supporters.
Leicester substitute Gallagher scored a goal in time added on – the last kick of the game – but it was no more than scant consolation for the hosts.