Paddy Davitt verdict: Future prospects not former glories matter at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The delicious irony of Wes Hoolahan's pivotal role in Paul Lambert's downfall would not have been lost on the man himself.
Lambert gave Hoolahan the stage and the belief to weave his sorcery in a mesmerising ascent from the depths of League One. A story dusted off and re-told with relish ahead of the latest reunion.
Hoolahan was coveted by his mentor in 2014 when the Irishman barely acknowledged his goal in front of the Holte End, after transfer interest from Lambert's Villa. It was not to be for either party.
Lambert deserved the warm applause at the final whistle as he acknowledged those who worshipped him. But his star has dimmed. Hoolahan remains a cherished gem in these parts as he approaches a decade of service. The magic may have to be rationed these days, and the 34-year-old's workload managed by Alex Neil, but City's key moments continue to carry his imprint.
Carl Ikeme was coaxed into a rash challenge on the midfielder and then a ridiculous reaction that sent the Republic of Ireland international spinning to the turf and the Wolves keeper to the dressing room.
Ikeme protested his innocence by more rational methods on social media yesterday but like Nelson Oliveira's rush of blood at Rotherham it cost his side the game.
Norwich deserved the win but the outcome was in the balance after Helder Costa had drawn the visitors level. Wolves, much like Derby before them at Carrow Road, attempted to engage Norwich in a game of football. For all the gnashing and wailing you now sense can erupt at any moment, that is terrain City can master in the Championship. Ivan Cavaleiro and Costa tried to service Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, but there was a lack of clarity and quality which the Canaries exposed on the counter. Jonny Howson, Steven Naismith and Hoolahan enjoyed the freedom to test an out-numbered Wolves' backline as the Portuguese pair remained exclusively in City territory.
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With Oliveira banned, Norwich lacked a cutting edge which is why they had to endure those uncomfortable periods following Costa's emphatically-taken penalty. Ikeme and his team-mates seethed about perceived injustice but they were second best.
Neil hailed a display that married quality to the fighting spirit required in the Championship. But Wolves were not a Barnsley or a Rotherham. They were not physically imposing or functional. Norwich's home form is such they can approach Birmingham's pending visit in confident mood. It is Cardiff, away, the week after, that poses the greater threat to any lingering prospect of a tilt at upward mobility.
Neil Warnock and his troops lie in wait to probe for signs of brittleness and complacency. We learned nothing that we did not already know about Neil and his players against Wolves. In a contest of skill and dash they are residually effective. It is the arm wrestles, the ugly, brutal, dirty, close-quarters combat where they have spectacularly failed.
Lambert's sides had that streetwise edge. He unearthed hungry, lower league players and professionals deemed not quite good enough for the top tiers, melding an effective fighting force wrapped inside a siege mentality on that epic journey from the third tier. Neil, for the most part, has expensively-acquired, technically gifted footballers who can beat any side in the Championship under favourable conditions. Prevail at Cardiff and Wigan, following Birmingham's visit, and they may find more than a lukewarm response when they return to Norfolk.
The disaffected have made up their minds. Claiming Lambert's scalp merely lowers the volume of disapproval.
This still feels like a holding pattern; a season which can yet flicker back into life or dissolve amidst fresh rancour and accusations of inaction from the top table.