Norwich City step up a gear in show of quality

DERBY COUNTY 1, NORWICH CITY 2: It is, as Paul Lambert has observed in the past, a long old poke when you leave Norfolk to watch Norwich City play football – so if you're going to brave icy temperatures, freezing cold rain and quirky satellite navigation systems, you do expect some good old VFM, value for money.

And with 2,200-plus fans behind them at Pride Park, there wasn't much choice but to go out and give them something to cheer about.

Hands that are probably still red raw from the win over Ipswich six days earlier were put through the pain barrier again as a slick performance from City shattered Derby's six-match home winning run and stretched their own unbeaten sequence to six.

Two goals inside the first 13 minutes did the damage – the first time this season City have started with such effective aplomb. It was a start punctuated by probably more passes than City have put together in a half of football this season – accurate, confident, effective.

It received full approval from the travelling army, who really are liking what's on offer from Lambert's side.

The emphasis is on attack: all four midfielders are capable of scoring behind a front two who are currently working in perfect tandem.

Often teams that have those instincts have weaknesses at the back which necessitate forward motion to prevent the exposing of leaks in defence, but it's not really the case with City. Derby's goal could have been avoided – can't they all? – but in general it's a solid back four.

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Behind it stands the immense frame of goalkeeper John Ruddy whose role in Saturday's win shouldn't be ignored.

While City grabbed the game by its throat early on, Derby pulled one back quickly – and when the excellent Kris Commons picked up on Chris Martin's sloppy crossfield ball to slip Paul Green in soon afterwards it looked like the good work had gone to waste. But when Green pulled the trigger, Ruddy had already spread himself and used his right hand to claw the ball away from danger. It was immense save not just in its execution, but because of its timing. City are made of pretty stern stuff these days (not a snood or a pair of gloves in sight), but if a team goes from 2-0 up to 2-2 in the space of 10 minutes, there's no telling what might have followed.

Ruddy also came to the rescue in the second half when Green, at the far post, connected with a cross from the left. The ball actually hit the post, but Ruddy had spread himself to ensure he got a touch before it went out for a goal kick.

The keeper has perhaps taken a little while to win over a crowd that fell in love with Fraser Forster last season, but he's getting there – and when your team is working from back to front you're on to something.

City headed to the Midlands with a spring in their step after the East Anglian derby success six days earlier, but Nigel Clough's team were clearly going to be a harder nut to crack. Six wins on the bounce at home is cracking form by anyone's standards, but City went their with good form of their own.

Lambert was forced into one change of personnel, the injured Andrew Surman replaced by Wes Hoolahan, but he shuffled the midfield from a conventional four to the diamond, this time putting Henri Lansbury at its peak with Hoolahan on the left, Andrew Crofts on the right and David Fox at its base.

Lansbury is a diamond in his own right: a player who has Arsenal class stamped all over him. He was almost on the scoresheet when he met Simon Lappin's cross from the left, heading downwards and seeing keeper Frank Fielding block. The ball hit Shaun Barker who then managed to prevent it creeping over the line.

But three minutes later he set the ball rolling on the opener; just inside his own half he hooked a clearance down the left channel. Some would have called it a hoof, but Lansbury clearly knew what he was doing and where Chris Martin was and, moving towards his own goal just inside the City half, he span and gave the striker a chance. Martin controlled it superbly, laid it off nicely to Hoolahan who got into the area, found Crofts who then slid it into Fox's path. The shot was hard and low, but a little off target, until his one-time Blackpool team-mate Barker got a touch to divert it goalwards. It hit Fielding's legs and trickled over the line. The goal is worth recalling in detail because the speed, crispness of passing and incisiveness was pretty much reflective of City in the first half.

Within three minutes Lappin had put a cross bang on Martin's forehead; it helps when you're unmarked, but from the penalty spot he still did all the right things, heading it low into the bottom left-hand corner. The technique of both players was classy.

City helped Derby to a goal, when Elliott Ward thought he could let a long ball go over his head to Ruddy, but found Luke Moore able to divert it into the path of Commons, who drew the keeper before clipping it past him.

The big scare came minutes alter when Ruddy stopped Green, and from then on you really did think City would have enough about them to draw Derby's sting and hit them on the counter late on when the kitchen sink had been dropped at the other end.

Green put a curler wide and then shot straight at Ruddy, and while Derby will point to the chances they had in the second half, City will also point out that they couldn't take them.

Robbie Savage put a free-kick past the post, but the midfielder wasn't at his best and with nine minutes to go was replaced, perhaps to give him time to gear himself up for post-match radio duties and then crank up his twitter account and start sending critical insights into the world of association football to his followers. Or not.

The first of two penalty box incidents went against Martin who, on the left side of the area, claimed he was blocked by Dean Leacock. Certainly Martin had stood his ground and it was the Derby man who had the forward motion.

Ruddy versus Green Part II ended in City's favour and was soon followed by Penalty Box Incidents II. Commons went flying into the air under challenge by Ward - even the replays didn't make it entirely clear who got a touch on the ball, but the defender's reaction, aided and abetted by Holt's, suggests they thought Commons had made much too much of it.

City went straight down the other end where Chris Martin forced Fielding into a good save to his left.

Holt then shot just over, but the big chance fell to Commons who, having got into the area by hook or by crook, somehow missed the target. The trust left foot let him down.

Holt was booked for time wasting, which means he misses the home game against Portsmouth on Saturday. It was always going to happen, so much as he will be missed, a home game is better then an away trip. The way City are playing, maybe they won't miss him too much.