Norwich City should still shoot for the moon
HULL CITY 1, NORWICH CITY 1: It could hardly have been more apposite for Paul Lambert to borrow football's corniest cliche to describe just where Norwich City sit in the big picture of Championship football.
'I heard Billy Davies' interview last night when he was saying he was absolutely delighted where Nottingham Forest were – and they are an established, huge club. So if Billy is delighted then I will tell you what, I must be over the moon.'
Given that the journey home for more than 2,000 City fans would have been accompanied by the glowing light of a 'supermoon', the comparison may well be shared. Getting over any moon is tough; conquering one that size even more difficult.
To say it's in City's hands is true, although the requirement is then to win all of their remaining eight games to ensure they stay ahead of the chasing pack and take full ownership of second place, possibly even higher, although you suspect QPR are already on the rocket ship to Premier League heaven.
It's tempting fate to say City have a decent run-in, because at this stage of the season, who's going to say struggling Scunthorpe at Carrow Road is any easier than Watford away? Who's more dangerous, a team fighting for its life or a team looking to leave the division by the door marked Premier League?
What's fact is that the aspirations –certainly from the fringes of the City camp – have changed; generally speaking, it's gone from survival, to comfort zone, to play-offs and now to automatic promotion.
They're hard acts to follow each other, but there is a look about City that makes it more than tempting to suggest that they can do this without the need for those ridiculous play-offs which render the long league season redundant in the flash of a �20 note.
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They may well have been two more points to the good, rather than settling for the one they gained from Hull's KC Stadium on Saturday –although with Tigers'-shaped glasses on you could also suggest that Hull were perhaps unlucky not to have won it on chances created.
It was Zak Whitbread and John Ruddy who were key figures, the centre-half scoring his first goal for the club to cap another high quality performance from a player who leaves you scratching your head and wondering just what might have been had it not been for injury. Whitbread heads off to the States to confuse his fellow Americans with his thick Scouse accent and hopefully win the first cap he deserves in friendlies against Paraguay and Argentina, Messi and all.
City had started the game well enough and it came as little real surprise when Whitbread got to his head to David Fox's free-kick and put it into a goal which had been vacated by keeper Brad Guzan, who had a rush of blood and came far too far out of his area to try and punch the ball away – it was an effort akin to Audley Harrison's best, not very good.
Hull's dangerman was right-back Liam Rosenior, whose presence in attack was forcing Andrew Surman to come deep and help out Marc Tierney.
Ruddy made the first of his clutch of good stops when Elliott Ward's clearance ricocheted off Matty Fryatt, who headed goalwards but saw the stopper save low to his right. Tierney and Ward weren't on the same wavelength when one passed to the other; Aaron McLean latched on to the loose ball but then inexplicably proved why Hull score so few goals at home by passing into acres of space.
Maybe he wanted the ground to open up – if it had he'd have had to make room for James Harper, who was in the right place at the right time to meet Rosenior's low drive from the right of the area but, with the goal gaping and Ruddy beaten, managed to lift the ball over the bar. The KC Stadium had been used for a rugby match the previous night and the surface looked like the groundstaff had rolled it to within an inch of its life to clear the ruts. Perhaps the ball took a bobble, but the home crowd were unforgiving and when he was replaced on the hour mark, they reserved their most ironic cheers for his departure.
Andy Dawson almost spared his blushes on the stroke of half-time with a free-kick that Ruddy did well to push away for a corner. The half-time advantage was reward for a composed performance by the Canaries, and while Hull pinned them back for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, they never really looked like they had enough about them to actually break through. Ward and Whitbread were coping well. Pity the same couldn't have been said of referee Rob Shoebridge, whose random whistling was ruining the flow of the game and giving Dawson plenty of opportunities to practice his free-kick routines.
Henri Lansbury, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt produced the best move of the game, only for Guzan to make amends by saving with his legs from Hoolahan, while Russell Martin was furious that his claims for a penalty were turned down when Dawson clambered all over him as he made his way into the area and tried to get a decent shot in.
Hull got back into the game on 74 minutes, when Mr Shoebridge did something right and played a good advantage when Ward took out Robert Koren, leaving Fryatt time and space down the left to square the ball for Barmby – Harper's replacement – to knock home. Barmby's 37-year-old legs had been on for 14 minutes, but he played a major role in earning them a point.
City responded well and looked more determined in attack, Hoolahan and Lansbury pulling a lot of strings.
Sub Simeon Jackson almost silenced some of his critics with a turn and shot that forced Guzman into a good save while Lanbsury produced another of those lung-busting runs into the area but couldn't quite get the ball down to get a decent shot in.
Ruddy had the final say, saving well from Tijani Belaid, while Hoolahan showed off his Lionel Messi skills with a mazy dribble into the Hull area that, had he found one more inch of space and the finish, would have earned him the title King Wes for life.
The big debate was whether it was a point won or two lost. With eight games left and all to fight for, it's a point won.
Lambert's stars head into the international break sitting pretty. Fingers need to be crossed that the internationals stay injury-free on their travels - that's in the laps of the gods, just like the future health of Holt, who invokes a sharp intake of breath whenever he takes a tumble.
Lambert admits City will need some luck in the run-in and will have noted what has happened at Cardiff, who lost Michael Chopra for the season and on Saturday saw leading scorer Jay Bothroyd pull a hamstring and centre-half Mark Hudson limp off with medial knee ligament damage. On such incidents promotions can be won and lost.
For the moment, at least, a whole new world still beckons for Norwich City.