Photo Gallery: Moment to savour as Norwich City’s long wait ends
Bolton 1, Norwich City 2: Anthony Pilkington's face said it best of all. The 23-year-old's features betrayed the realisation of a boyhood dream. A goal in the Premier League.
Not the best goal he has ever scored, granted. A scuffed clip that came back off the post and struck Tuncay's heel before rolling over the line. One hopes the Premier League's dubious goals' panel turn a blind eye.
But still a thing of beauty – a momentous staging post in Pilkington's footballing career. The boy from nearby Darwen had completed a personal journey which started in the North-West Counties League via Stockport and Huddersfield. Hard yards in the lower reaches of the Football League cashed in for days like this one at the Reebok. Norwich under Paul Lambert have travelled a similar route.
Pilkington was smothered by delighted team-mates. The ball had rolled barely three yards when it left Pilkington's boot, but it was a footballing leap forward for the Canaries.
Bradley Johnson's guided header doubled City's lead within five minutes. Five more and Bolton were reduced to 10 men when Ivan Klasnic took a dislike to Marc Tierney –irrespective of the latent power in the Croatian's neck muscles when he motioned towards City's left back.
Norwich still had a full 45 minutes of Premier League football to navigate. After the hard luck stories and the individual errors of the previous four games, you had a clear sense this was the moment.
Throw this one away from a relative position of strength and the doubting voices grow audibly louder. The pessimists march on the higher ground.
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Norwich may be top-flight novices, but they also know how to win games. Not just in the comfortable confines of Carrow Road – away from home, with their collective backs against the wall.
Pilkington played against his current employers in arguably one of the key early games during that fluid process of constructing the Lambert empire. March 2010. Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium. City went into the match leading League One, but with Leeds and Charlton ready to pounce on any slip-ups over the final stretch.
The Terriers struck early. Grant Holt dragged Norwich level entering the final quarter against Lee Clark's play-off chasers. Then Stephen Elliott – you know, the Irish loan striker – weighed in with a priceless brace.
Norwich's fans and players headed back to Norfolk with a pending sense of what lay ahead that sunny day in West Yorkshire. More or less the same stretch of tarmac leads to Bolton's Reebok Stadium. Similar modern architectural surroundings. Similar vocal backing. Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan were the only two starters left spanning both eras. Trusted Lambert men.
Both have had to bide their time this season. As City's boss reiterated prior to the latest attempt to bury the ghosts of 2004/05 and pick up that elusive away win, there are no favourites inside his Norwich dressing room.
Only footballers who he thinks are good enough to maintain the Canaries' upward curve. Lambert has used 21 players in Norwich's opening month of Premier League duty, nearly every single senior member of his squad.
Six more changes to his starting line-up against Wanderers from the previous weekend's televised 1-0 defeat to West Brom. Form, not favouritism, is Lambert's managerial motto.
His is the power to bestow opportunity. Then it's up to those players to take them.
Both Martin and Hoolahan will feel aggrieved if they do not feature when Sunderland come to town next week. Martin slotted into an unfamiliar centre back role alongside Leon Barnett.
The Scottish international's greater experience preferred to Ritchie De Laet's undoubted quality. Kevin Davies' half-time withdrawal was an instant barometer of the duo's success in nullifying a recent England international.
Not that it was all plain sailing. Martin dallied when Dedryk Boyata refused to give up a seemingly lost cause. The Manchester City loanee strained to wrap his right boot around a ball hurtling towards the byline after Martin had opted to shepherd it out of play.
David Ngog reacted a split second quicker than Barnett, who rapped the Frenchman on his right knee. The aftermath had a crushing air of inevitability – aside from the fact it took Howard Webb more than half a second to extend his arm towards the penalty spot. Five penalties conceded in five consecutive top-flight league games. An unwanted piece of footballing trivia Norwich now share with Wimbledon. But unlike the previous four, Martin Petrov's precise penalty ended up little more than an irritable aside. Halving the deficit proved not the signal for a bombardment of the Norwich goal.
In truth, bar John Ruddy's fine one-handed parry to foil Ngog deep in stoppage time, Norwich enjoyed a smooth passage to the final whistle. Bolton played with a suffocating restriction borne of a side apparently still dazed from heavy defeat to Manchester United, allied to recent reversals against Liverpool and Manchester City.
The fixture Gods have been less than kind to Owen Coyle's side. Norwich have suffered setbacks – Stoke's late leveller and the penalty episodes against West Brom principle among them – but Lambert's squad has a resilience.
The manager was rewarded for his bravery. Pilkington and Elliott Bennett given licence to attack from wide. Wes Hoolahan handed a start and the armband with Holt kept in reserve as Steve Morison earned the lone striker role.
The Welshman spurned an early clear-cut chance when Webb gave City an all too rare break from officialdom this season – waving play on when Paul Robinson welcomed Bennett to the north-west with a tackle from behind.
Martin's flick header flew at Jussi Jaaskelainen. Norwich were bright. Bolton jittery. Lambert was City's 12th man. Cajoling and prompting from the front of the technical area – the composer trying to blend his strings and wind sections.
Morison shovelled David Fox's corner back into the six-yard box. Pilkington pounced.
Joy unconfined. Johnson gave City that all too rare breathing space. Rain swept in over the top of the stands; weather matching the mood of the home fans. Restless. Klasnic's red card turned up the volume.
A cacophony of boos greeted the half-time whistle. Sweet music to the men in green and yellow. Coyle shuffled his options at the interval but the dye was cast. Norwich were happy to contain and spring on the counter. Kyle Naughton demonstrates with each passing shift what an astute piece of business Lambert may have produced to prize the former Sheffield United man out of Harry Redknapp's star-studded squad at White Hart Lane.
On the opposite flank, Marc Tierney has now earned the distinction of becoming the only member of Lambert's squad to start all five Premier League games this season.
A record every bit as notable as City's propensity to give away a spot kick per game. Petrov tested Ruddy with a free-kick from fully 25 yards. The threat was sporadic.
Until City's central defensive duo switched off for a nano-second.
Bolton sensed a silver lining to an afternoon of abject misery. Morison's cute drag-back rolled Zat Knight, but the left-foot finish failed to match the artistry of the initial trigger movement.
Johnson continued his quest to slot the perfect free-kick with another wayward effort that ended up in the away end. Still no concerted last stand from the Whites. But this is Norwich. A guarantee of late drama should be printed on the matchday ticket.
City dropped deeper as each passing minute of the four additional elapsed. Bolton advanced – established a bridgehead just outside the away penalty box. First Johnson, then Barnett headed manfully clear before Ngog rose unchallenged to flick a goalbound header that Ruddy athletically pushed up and away to safety. It was an excellent stop. Made more impressive by a keeper largely redundant for the majority of the previous 90 minutes.
Bolton were decidedly average – but Norwich proved once again they are learning fast.