Numbers stack up for Norwich City’s hotshots
NORWICH CITY 6, SCUNTHORPE UNITED 0: No one should be in any doubt these are special times at Carrow Road.
Take to one side that Scunthorpe put up less of a fight than most of last season's League One visitors – maybe even non-league Paulton Rovers, who finished only one goal worse off when City travelled to the south west for an FA Cup first round tie last year. At least they had the defence of being part-timers
As we all know, in the end you can only beat what is put in front of you – and Norwich turned that into a sumptuous 90 minutes of classy movement, creativity and drive.
They also took a very welcoming opportunity to not only send a message to their promotion rivals – but to give their goal difference a bit of a leg up.
The Championship is constantly referred to as a place of fine lines and narrow margins, so adding a couple of extra to the 'goals for' column could be just as crucial as the win.
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After all, that was exactly what saw City into the play-offs back in 2002 – one solitary goal more than Burnley.
But while it was a case of avoiding slip-ups against the Iron's 10 men, the next four matches are safely reserved for the 'pivotal' pile – four mouth-watering main courses to an Iron starter, if you like.
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Trips to play-off hopefuls Watford and arch East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town sandwich the visit of faltering promotion-chasers Nottingham Forest in a run of games up to Easter that will decide just how destined for the Premier League Paul Lambert's side is – maybe his initials say it all?
The run of games starts on Saturday at fourth placed Swansea City – a side renowned for playing the game 'the right way'.
There is no question that will represent a far tougher test than we all witnessed this weekend.
But while Norwich march on with their record of one defeat in 18 matches and four wins in their last six, Swansea will still be digesting a run of one win in five and finding themselves four points behind the team they will be hosting in front of the television cameras.
Anyway, these special times – here is why…
Saturday was the first time since December 1985 that City hit someone for six in a league game – a 6-1 home win over Millwall, in a season that saw the Canaries return to the big time at the first attempt.
Saturday's goals came courtesy of a pair of hat-tricks from Grant Holt and substitute Simeon Jackson – the first time since 1989 that two Norwich players have hit three apiece.
Malcolm Allen and Robert Fleck did the business against non-league Sutton United in an 8-0 FA Cup romp. However, Holt and Jackson's feat is a first for City in the league – and all the more remarkable given the two players were never on the pitch together.
The palpable buzz around Norwich's Colney training centre on Friday spilled into Carrow Road the following day – the ground was alive. A Scunthorpe colleague called it the best atmosphere he had taken in for an age.
And it was. Sparks were flying between fans and players, fuelled by the news that on-loan Liverpool star Dani Pacheco had been handed a first Championship start since his arrival during the international break.
Before kick-off the fans were in fine voice, City's 10th minute lead made it more relaxed, before the second half verged on being a party.
No doubt it was the Canaries' champagne football that stoked it all.
It is what the club did when it was forming its reputation for attractive football that – if City do complete the job come May – will regularly do the rounds as the national media brushes up on its Norwich City knowledge beyond a catalogue of tired Delia Smith cookery puns.
But maybe there is one statistic – or at least one player – who perfectly represents just why these past 18 months have been such a joy.
Not only did Holt bag his third hat-trick for Norwich on Saturday, he grabbed City's 150th league goal under Lambert – and most impressively, made it 51 goals in 85 Canaries appearances.
Only Ralph Hunt managed the half-century in fewer games at the club.
Much like how City went about breaking all manner of records last season, they are creating history as they go along in this.
The Canaries were a pleasure to watch as they tore Scunthorpe apart – leaving the Iron's new manager Alan Knill to ask 'what have I done' and Michael Nelson wishing away his big goodbye to the club he served so well.
Maybe his less-than-tight marking for Holt's third goal was a parting gift to his friend and ex-City colleague.
That was after an hour of wonderful, incisive football played almost exclusively in the visitors' half – with Pacheco and Wes Hoolahan everywhere and anywhere. Most teams would consider themselves lucky to have one of those two at their disposal. City are blessed with two – although the hamstring injury Hoolahan suffered midway through the second half may yet curtail his end of season involvement for the third year running.
Lambert has been understandably keen to play down everyone's expectations of Pacheco: 'He's not Lionel Messi,' says the City boss, making reference to the pair's shared Barcelona upbringing. But that did not stop Scunthorpe fearing both him and the rest of City's side – to the point where they afforded their hosts the freedom of Carrow Road on too many occasions to mention.
It started with Pacheco and the classy Andrew Surman combining to set up Holt within 10, and the afternoon already looked comfortable before Pacheco's beautifully weighted ball saw Paul Reid flatten Holt in the bombarded area.
The penalty, and in truth the red card that followed, were mere formalities – while Holt never looked like failing to convert his third spot kick in four matches.
After that it was simply a case of how many – and by full-time, City had made sure the answer was a lot.
Jackson, without a goal since his winner against Middlesbrough at Carrow Road on October 23, took just five minutes of his introduction to rob Michael Raynes and beat keeper Joe Murphy to the ball with a top quality finish.
Fellow substitute Henri Lansbury – extremely unfortunate in dropping to the bench – set up Jackson's second from close range 120 seconds later before history was made with virtually the last kick of the game, and a finish that spoke of a striker whose confidence had flooded back.
The sponsor's man of the match duties were rightfully shared between the hat-trick heroes – but they got a match ball each.
So a special day for Holt, Jackson and most inside Carrow Road, coming towards the end of what has already been a special season. And special mention to David Fox, for helping to show it's not only Swansea who can play the game 'in the right way'.
But then, maybe next week City can show all those watching on TV just how special this season could be.