Paddy Davitt verdict: Does it get any better? Yes it can for Norwich City

Timm Klose heads Norwich City in front during a 3-2 Premier League win over relegation rivals Newcas

Timm Klose heads Norwich City in front during a 3-2 Premier League win over relegation rivals Newcastle United. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It was exhilarating, it was terrifying, it was sport, it was bare-knuckled combat and when it was over the men in yellow and green were left standing as Newcastle's dejected players slumped to the turf.

Alex Neil cautioned this was not a defining, survival-clinching afternoon in the Premier League relegation battle but it was difficult to retain a sense of perspective in the maelstrom.

Carrow Road had just witnessed a modern classic; the type of contest that comes around so rarely it will be savoured and spoken about in hushed tones for seasons to come.

This was the day Timm Klose rose majestically to glance home Robbie Brady's gorgeous free kick. When Dieumerci Mbokani wreaked havoc on the Magpies' defence before thumping home a strike that would have catapulted Karl Darlow into the back of his net if he had foolishly tried to get in the way. It was John Ruddy, leaping gracefully to claw out Papiss Cisse's goalbound header, as Newcastle surged forward in search of an improbable win to inflict a potentially fatal blow. And it was Martin Olsson, with the type of strike his Swedish international team mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have coveted.

But it was more than individual actors. It was Neil and his coaching staff, those players in and around the dugout who celebrated with the gay abandon of delirious home supporters swaying in all four sides of the stadium. It was the whole. It was Norwich City displaying a unity of purpose and a tangible, intoxicating, growing belief the Canaries can retain their top flight status.


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You can take comfort in avalanches of soundbites, column inches or tub-thumping speeches but all that really matters, all that defines a season is what happens within the parameters of that patch of grass.

Norwich delivered again, as they did at West Brom and at home to Manchester City. Defensive resolution has underpinned a cutting edge which, certainly during the prolonged downturn in the early part of 2016, remained maddeningly elusive. Neil has melded a cohesive unit from front to back, forged around a core who have brought stability and attained a level of performance that is more than good enough to compete in such rarefied company.

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Those he entrusted were tested to their limits against a visiting side who played with an intensity and a fury in the second period during a breathless chain of events unleashed by Aleksandar Mitrovic's looping header that brushed Ryan Bennett to beat the stranded Ruddy.

The din from the clap banners had barely receded before Mbokani collected Jonny Howson's pass to veer around Daryl Janmaat and rock Carrow Road to its foundations.

Newcastle hauled themselves off the canvas, withstood the count, and came back swinging. Ayoze Perez's flick clearly struck Gary O'Neil's arm. Referee Dean had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Mitrovic held his nerve to drill the penalty past Ruddy.

All that elation, all that sense of propulsion and surging optimism was punctured in one swipe of the Serbian's right boot. Norwich were pinned deep inside Ruddy's box as Rafa Benitez's boys sensed blood.

The big man went into orbit to claw away Cisse's header. This was it. This was Norwich's season and Premier League future on the line; all the tactical and technical layers stripped bare, just heart and character and a will to resist. It was sport at its richest and footballing karma at its finest.

Once a semblance of calm had descended in the aftermath, Neil made reference to the contrasting emotions with Liverpool's heart-breaking stoppage time win in that bizarre 5-4 episode earlier this year.

Adam Lallana, bare-chested, racing down the near touchline to embrace Jurgen Klopp. This time it was Neil engulfed by his players and backroom staff when Olsson slammed a left-footed finish into the same part of the same net at the same end of the ground as Lallana's bouncing hit.

Norwich have suffered some debilitating blows this season, but none more so than that sour defeat to the Reds. They deserve to savour the euphoria of this victory but they must not dwell on its significance.

Sunderland remain a visible danger in the rear view mirror; the Black Cats threatening the type of winning run Norwich have enjoyed either side of the international break. Newcastle's perilous situation is sure to provoke a final, desperate onslaught if they can clear their heads quickly enough.

There is so much graft still ahead, so many perils and pitfalls but Norwich and Neil are on the march. The curve is upward, the mood is bullish. The time to strike is now.

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