Photo Gallery: Carrow Road is the best show in town
Norwich City 4, Newcastle United 2: Kevin Keegan's Newcastle were always hailed as the great entertainers. That same gene is alive and well within Paul Lambert's squad.
The Magpies under KK never quite secured the silverware to go with their swashbuckling style, but goals were almost a guaranteed prerequisite wherever Newcastle went. Carrow Road right now must be one of the hottest tickets in town; assuming you could source one that is with the biggest crowd in nearly three decades watching this latest compelling slice of Premier League action. Keegan's vintage was built on wide players with verve and invention to supply some of the most fearsome forwards in the game at that time. Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer were archetypal English number nines. Raw power harnessed to muscular athleticism. Goals flowed by the bucketload. City possess their own version in Steve Morison and Grant Holt; another three goal salvo taking their collective total to 12 by early December in the most competitive club league on the continent.
Morison and Holt may not have the same pedigree as Ferdinand and Shearer. But they have the same impact. United's makeshift central defenders James Perch and Danny Simpson were bullied into submission. Softened up before the interval as City looked to hit diagonal balls at every opportunity before wilting after the break as Norwich continue to pummel the heart of Newcastle's untried backline. Morison's stiffest challenge in despatching his own thudding header past Tim Krul came from Holt – positioned half a yard behind him, hovering around the penalty spot ready to contort his body to connect with Andrew Crofts' inviting centre.
Stick a long black coat on Morison and he would not look out of place in the doorway of any number of establishments down the Prince of Wales Road on a Friday or Saturday night. The Welsh striker carries an air of menace that embellishes his robust physique. The 28-year-old is also fearless. Not simply in his desire to stick his head where more aesthetically pleasing forwards think twice about placing their brightly coloured boots; but in his sheer force of will. Morison has come up the hard way but there is no inferiority complex sharing the same stage every weekend with the poster boys. The former Stevenage man is the heavyweight challenger given his shot at the big time and desperate to wring every last drop from an experience he must have felt was a million miles away when he was toiling in non league.
Holt has trodden the same route; albeit in less accelerated fashion. City's skipper exudes an air of comfort as well as authority. He knows his game and his limitations. He also knows the attributes that mark him out as a prolific frontman. Holt came off the bench to star against QPR in Norwich's previous home game in another raucous affair that tilted in favour of the hosts before Rangers wrestled the initiative, only for Holt and Wes Hoolahan to emerge from the shadows into the spotlight.
Amidst the euphoria of victory over the Magpies; when pressed for the reasons behind another makeover to his starting line up, Lambert stressed the absolute necessity for all the constituent parts of his squad to move in the same direction. A vibrant Carrow Road was the canvas for another display rich in togetherness. Holt and Morison claimed the headlines, but there was so much else to admire and celebrate. It was Andrew Crofts probing from midfield, breaking into the opposition penalty box unmarked for the huge assist in Hoolahan's opening goal. Or swinging in a centre from the right slotted by Morison for the third. It was Russell Martin battling manfully to subdue Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi.
Martin embodies the Norwich project under Lambert. The converted centre back threw himself into the line of fire, took the whacks, got up and got on with it. Time and time again. Dan Gosling was rightly red carded for a desperate lunge that buckled Martin's right leg. The only saving grace was the challenge took place in mid-air and not with Martin's foot planted on the ground. Yet he was there again a minute from normal time, throwing his body across Ba to clear at the near post – knowing he was guaranteed another painful blow but desperate to preserve those three points.
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City's excellent record at Carrow Road underpinned their rise from the Football League. The same formula will go a long way to keeping them in the top flight. West Brom and Arsenal remain the only sides to leave the county with maximum league points this season. Albion's victory owed much to defensive indiscipline and the sort of anaemic off day in front of goal from Lambert's men all the more remarkable for its rarity. Arsenal deserved everything they got. A team in red hot form spearheaded by one of the best strikers in all of Europe.
Ba's brace against the Canaries moved him joint second on the current Premier League hit list behind Robin van Persie. The Senegalese looks the bargain of not just this season but many a campaign after moving to the north-east from West Ham on a free transfer.
His first oozed class. Peeling away down the channel with a run to stay onside that enabled him to drift between Zak Whitbread and Martin before instantly controlling Yohan Cabaye's dropping pass over his shoulder to calmly slot past the advancing John Ruddy.
Norwich could feel a sense of injustice at being pegged back in the closing seconds of the opening period. Lambert dusted off the diamond with David Fox setting the metronomic tempo that freed Hoolahan to prod and probe in the slivers of space created by Holt and Morison stretching the visitors' rearguard. Alan Pardew needs to re-assess his scouting resources – given the manner of Norwich's opener.
Andrew Surman's corner from the left bundled home by Martin had nudged Norwich in front against QPR.
Crofts strode into yards of daylight at the near post for the initial header from the same source which struck Ryan Taylor. Hoolahan showed all the instincts of a penalty box predator to apply the final touch.
Ba's leveller carried with it a latent threat to alter the half-time dynamic. Lambert and his coaching staff had to rally rather than simply request the status quo. Shola Ameobi profited from Gabriel Obertan's penetrative burst to stand up a cross for Ba whose chest control was the precursor for a rising volley that grazed Ruddy's bar.
Taylor's dipping free kick from the right momentarily raised further alarms when City's number one misjudged the flight prior to smothering a speculative long range sighter from Ba. There was an inescapable sense of QPR all over again; Norwich edging the opening period before the visitors established parity on the scoresheet and a platform for ascendancy.
Holt was again the catalyst for change. Newcastle's woeful defensive inadequacy was laid bare twice inside five minutes. Fox and Hoolahan worked a short corner routine before Fox flighted a cross met by Holt. Tim Krul manfully batted away the first effort but Holt was quickest to react with a rebound header brushing the underside of the bar. Morison then barrelled into Gosling. The former Evertonian's miscued clearance dropped to Crofts who crafted another inviting cross from the right that Morison met with ferocious intent. The ball was past Krul before he was barely airborne.
Gosling compounded his error with a lunging attempt to rectify a heavy first touch. Newcastle's midfielder was heading for the exit before referee Atkinson had brandished the red card. Shola Ameobi mugged Whitbread to service Ba. One body swerve wrong-footed Martin and another calm finish brought renewed hope to the ten men.
Norwich's season thus far has been a series of key staging posts towards the ultimate prize. Survival. Be it hanging on at Wigan on the opening day. Or being pegged back late on by Stoke in the first home league game. Back-to-back wins against Bolton and Sunderland. Battling points against Liverpool and Blackburn.
The 20 or so minutes from Ba's second goal to the final whistle offered another. Draw or even worse lose a game Norwich were in complete control of and the self doubt begins to cascade. Holt's glancing header from Bradley Johnson's pinpoint free kick earned more than victory. It gave the majority inside another record Carrow Road crowd renewed belief.