Norwich City set the record straight against resolute Brighton
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The scale of City's celebrations at the final whistle underlined just how big a peak Alex Neil's men had scaled on the south coast.
There was no trace of triumphalism, or premature sense the job is complete, but the body language was purposeful, the connection between those on the pitch and the thousands who made the trip visible.
Alex Neil was the last man to depart the field of play following one final salute to the travelling support after he had embraced the majority of his side.
Satisfaction was etched across the Scot's features. Maybe even a tinge of relief. All the elements were present for another kink in the arduous journey to the Premier League; the presence just a few metres alongside him in the technical area of Chris Hughton, striving to write a more palatable chapter than his last Norwich involvement 12 months ago. So too a club effectively safe from a late relegation skirmish backed by a passionate support base who whipped up a raucous atmosphere in a superb amphitheatre.
Norwich were tested. Make no mistake. Perhaps John Ruddy was not required to be at his shot-stopping best but there was a gathering sense of momentum to Brighton's sustained pressure at times and uncomfortable periods where there was scope for the self-doubt to seep into the Norwich ranks.
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City had struggled against an abrasive Wigan at Carrow Road and a direct Huddersfield in West Yorkshire over recent times. Lingering questions were raised about Norwich's ability to subdue the lesser lights on their long march to the top end of hte Championship, but they were answered emphatically in the most testing moments on a murky, misty afternoon.
The visitors were resolute when threatened. There was also a distinct lack of charity about their defensive work, in contrast to the manner of damaging concessions against both the Latics and the Terriers.
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Ruddy remained well-protected and when his handling and positioning were put to the test he was an impenetrable barrier with important interventions at his near post as Brighton probed late on from wide areas.
Neil again showed his prowess to maximise the very most from his squad of many talents.
Nathan Redmond was unleashed to haunt the man who in the past he had attributed as the biggest influence on his burgeoning career.
Perhaps there was a frustration and a desire to prove he deserved to be involved from the start that propelled the England Under-21 midfielder down the right flank within minutes of his second-half arrival to firstly control Steven Whittaker's inviting pass and then cleverly invite a challenge from Joe Bennett before retaining the composure to produce a cut-back hammered home by Bradley Johnson.
It was a rare slice of unadulterated attacking urgency in a contest which had ebbed and flowed around who was able to exert control across midfield terrain.
Graham Dorrans was the fulcrum for early success until Brighton wrestled the initiative prior to the interval as City began to exude levels of discomfort hitherto unseen.
Seb Bassong's errant back pass, wasted in the end by Joao Teixeira, was the only encouragement Hughton's side seemingly needed to realise perhaps they could pose a concerted threat to Ruddy's goal.
Such an unpredictable climate demanded a degree of shock treatment, an injection of thrust provided by Redmond. Norwich visibly grew in stature again after Johnson's guided far post finish; Brighton's passing became frayed and fitful. City looked more likely to profit on the counter with Jonny Howson switched inside to support Cameron Jerome with his athleticism and running power.
Neil's enviable resources also brought a late introduction for Gary Hooper. Hughton added a dash of attacking intent with a double substitution of his own, but neither Craig Mackail-Smith or Leon Best could offer the same spark as Redmond.
In the final analysis, City's manager may well have been blessed with the best squad in the Championship but he is clearly achieving an optimum output in the pursuit of an automatic promotion spot that now looks set to run for the entire duration.
All Norwich can do is clear the next hurdle blocking their path. Neil reiterated such simple logic to his troops in the bowels of the away dressing room at the Amex.
Sheffield Wednesday, on home soil, appears an eminently easier prospect that a reunion with an old flame and a resurgent Brighton, but such has been the gruelling nature of the previous eight months, Neil's men will require the same total focus and tunnel vision to overcome the Owls.
The finishing line is tantalisingly in sight now for the Canaries, and profitable days like this one merely fuel the belief Norwich are determined not to suffer a costly late stumble.