Norwich City pile pressure on Welsh rivals
NORWICH CITY 2, NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1: If there was ever any need for confirmation of Grant Holt's legendary status at Carrow Road, then it was provided last night as City clinched a thrilling and vital victory.
Pre-match nerves had been shredded by the will-he won't-he debate over the most famous hamstring injury in this neck of the woods, but Holt played his part to the full – and that could be vital for City's run-in.
The Canaries overcame a disastrous opening, when Forest went ahead with a freak goal, to level when Holt rose majestically to head home David Fox's free-kick.
By half-time man of the match Andrew Surman had put City ahead – courtesy of yet another Holt assist – and there they deservedly stayed against a Forest side who proved to be one of the more obstinate, difficult and impressive opponents of the season.
Victory moved City back into second place in the table, but they will now have to wait for this afternoon's round of matches before knowing where they sit with four games to go: the big ones to watch are Swansea – who have lost their last three away – at Burnley, Cardiff at home to Portsmouth, Leeds at home to Watford and Reading at home to Leicester. Other Results have generally gone in City's favour in recent weeks – is it too much to ask that the trend continues today?
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What is clear is that come 5pm this afternoon the Championship promotion picture should be a lot clearer.
City received a massive boost with the news that not just Holt but also Wes Hoolahan were fit to play their part.
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Forest made three changes, Kris Boyd, David McGoldrick and Nathan Tyson coming in to the side which ended a nine-match run without a win by beating Burnley in midweek.
An expectant Carrow Road crowd was rocking by the time Boyd kicked off proceedings, Forest taking the game to City in the early moments.
But with three minutes on the clock there came that moment for John Ruddy to forget.
The City keeper came flying out of the left of his area to clear a ball down the channel from Brendan Moloney, but his kick clattered against Tyson's leg and City could only watch in disbelief as it bounced goalwards and settled in the back of the net.
Even Tyson hadn't got a clue until the visiting Forest fans erupted.
Strong minds are needed for promotion chases, and City needed theirs.
The response almost came in the seventh minute when Andrew Crofts got in a low cross from the left of the area which Simeon Jackson hooked just wide.
It signalled a good spell, although how City didn't get a penalty when Hoolahan's corner appeared to be charged down by the arms of Wes Morgan is anyone's guess.
But the power of Holt – which is debated at great length on social network sites by the yellow and green army – ensured City were soon on level par. David Fox swung in a free-kick from the right after Hoolahan had been fouled, and Holt rose superbly to send a thumping header past Lee Camp. 'There's only one Grant Holt!' sang the crowd. How right they are.
Boyd 'bought' a free-kick from Zak Whitbread just 10 yards outside the City area as he chased a Paul Konchesky pass – the impressive Lewis McGugan lined it up, but needed to be a yard lower to repeat the effort of Swansea's Fabio Borini last weekend.
Moloney then cut in a shot a foot wide of Ruddy's left post as Forest regrouped as the match began to settle down.
But a moment of magic from Surman on 21 minutes almost gave City the lead: the wide man jinked this way and that, got the ball on his left foot and then tried to chip Lee Camp, the effort drifting wide of the far post.
McGugan skipped past Russell Martin and shot wide from a narrow angle as the game moved from end to end while Holt's little flick almost set Jackson free, Camp just getting his fingertips to the ball before the quicksilver striker could get a touch.
But there was a great escape on 28 minutes when McGugan did well again in the area, beat Whitbread, cut the ball back for Guy Moussi who, from 12 yards, saw his shot come back off Ruddy's right-hand post.
It was a more than acceptable chance – and City were fortunate not to be behind.
Boyd then got in front of Whitbread but headed Konchesky's cross wide.
Maybe Forest's rhythm was upset when striker Boyd needed treatment – they were certainly sleeping a minute later when Jackson helped win possession in the air, Holt saw Surman ready to make a run, put the ball in front of him and allowed him to do the rest, slotting coolly past Camp to give City the lead on 37 minutes.
At the other end Ruddy was breathing a sigh of relief as McGugan's free-kick went down the throat of the City defence and, had McGoldrick got a touch, it would have been all square again.
City were clearly going for a quick kill after the break: Surman shot wide after patient build-up play, Jackson did well to squeeze in a shot which Camp beat out and then Holt pushed one over.
Forest are made of sterner stuff than their recent form suggests, hence the need for a wider margin.
Ruddy put the wind up the crowd again when the speedy Tyson almost stole the ball off his toe as he tried some fancy footwork in the area: the supporters' nerves aren't quite ready for that at this stage of the season.
Forest's ideas factory wasn't quite as effective – McGugan's long-ranger perhaps proved that they were finding City's backline a tough nut to crack,
Tyson had a half-chance when a clearance fell to him but he blasted it wide – a presentable chance wasted. That was his last contribution – replaced moments later by former City man Rob Earnshaw, who got a less than warm welcome from the home fans.
Hoolahan departed 12 minutes from time to rapturous applause, replaced by the more defensively-minded Simon Lappin.
Holt was inches away from getting on the end of sub Henri Lansbury's deflected corner before Jackson's just didn't get enough of his forehead on to Lappin's cross from deep on the left.
But it was always going to be Forest who attempted the kitchen sink tactics – catch them on the break and it was game over.
Jackson came within an inch of getting the vital third, cracking the bottom of the left upright after terrific work by Surman.
Konchesky's rash challenge on Surman which earned him a second yellow made the task a little easier.
All thoughts now turn to Portman Road on Thursday - so open the A140, we're coming through.