Photo Gallery: Norwich City’s actions speak louder than words
Norwich City 2, QPR 1: If actions speak louder than words then Paul Lambert's reaction at the final whistle said it all.
City's manager did not need Carol Vorderman to tell him victory over QPR earned the same number of points as Bolton away or Swansea and Sunderland at home.
Yet there was an inescapable sense Norwich City's latest Premier League victory came attached with a greater underlying significance.
A first win in five. Respite sandwiched between the imposing twin pillars of Arsenal and Manchester City; with Newcastle, Everton and Tottenham on the horizon. In such rarefied company confidence can drain away as quickly as it is replenished.
Lambert's squad has adapted well to top flight life. Never mind standing still, slow down and you find yourself going backwards in such a congested table. Do not underestimate the feelgood factor surrounding a win, any win, in the Premier League.
Lambert stood at the entrance to the tunnel. He respectfully stayed off the playing surface – yet made a very public point of congratulating each and every one of his players as they headed for the sanctuary of the home dressing room.
The City boss had shuffled his options, just like at Bolton when six changes to his starting line-up triggered a maiden Premier League win and proved the catalyst for a run of consistent results that silenced some of the doubters.
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The spirit of the Reebok remains alive and well. Ritchie De Laet was preferred to Kyle Naughton at right- back after the Manchester United loanee had been taken out of the firing line following impressive flashes of early season form blighted by damaging individual lapses.
Simeon Jackson earned his first start of the Premier League season. Andrew Surman was recalled for his first taste of the top flight since September 11. Wes Hoolahan and David Fox made way. Lambert can talk all day about the importance of the squad or about his total faith in the players at his disposal.
Here was tangible evidence in his declared team sheet. Actions rather than words.
The Scot was right to downplay the pre-match significance of facing one of the sides you expect to shadow for the duration. But he knows better than the majority crammed inside Carrow Road the psychological impact on fans and his own set of players from dropped points in these types of matches.
Norwich have no divine right to beat anyone in this league. Prior to a ball being kicked at Wigan back in August, fans, players and management alike knew the campaign was always going to be a war of attrition. QPR at home is the sort of battle you have to win to survive. Just as they did against the Swans and the Wearsiders.
Norwich do not possess the artistry of Arsenal, the mesmeric movement of Manchester City. Or the cash flow of Chelsea for that matter. A commodity which seems directly linked to a club's upwardly mobile status in the richest league on the planet. Yet under Lambert they are well versed in bucking prevailing trends. What they possess in abundance is a collective unity of purpose. They needed it against Rangers.
The hosts went in at the interval a goal to the good. But QPR, and Shaun Wright-Phillips in particular, had served notice what lay in store towards the end of the opening stanza.
Only Shaun Derry knows how he failed to apply the coup de grace to the former England wide player's inviting free-kick which bisected a posse of players attracted to the edge of John Ruddy's six yard box.
Wright-Phillips took the direct approach when he shrugged off the attentions of the excellent Andrew Crofts before testing Ruddy who spilled at the feet of Jamie Mackie.
The Scotland international slapped the follow up high into the side netting. The half-time whistle brought some much-needed respite, but the visitors' momentum went unchecked by the temporary hiatus. Few could have been surprised when they levelled.
Luke Young despatched Mackie's initial smack with the coolness of a seasoned striker after the ball had thudded Ruddy's right-hand upright and slammed back into play.
QPR were in the ascendancy; Norwich looked flat. It needed a spark. It came, but arguably not from those headline-grabbing sources.
Not from Lambert, who made the game-changing double substitution. Nor Hoolahan or Grant Holt, who combined to full effect after Derry had initially foiled Holt's point blank header from Steve Morison's flick.
It came from Naughton, who had replaced De Laet after the Belgian was forced to depart the scene with a recurrence of his recent back injury. Barely two minutes before Holt's decisive act, Naughton's robust challenge through the back of Wright-Phillips right in front of the dug-outs sparked indignation from his own prowling manager and the vast majority inside the stadium.
QPR were awarded a free-kick. Naughton earned a lecture from referee Clattenburg, but the net effect was to turn up the decibels after QPR's second half pressing had muted the volume. Lambert remonstrated with the official at the front of his technical area. It was the sort of challenge you sensed he would have been proud to call one of his own during his illustrious playing days. Hard but fair.
Wright-Phillips hauled himself to his feet but the message had been forcefully rammed home. Norwich were not about to roll over. A line had been drawn. With Holt marauding alongside Morison and Hoolahan offering a link from front to back, City threw off the defensive shackles and established a bridgehead in the visitors' half. Derry's dexterity somehow denied Holt when Morison had burst into the channels yet again before standing a cross up to the back post. City retrieved possession, switched the ball to their Irish playmaker, who fashioned another probing centre that Holt merely had to divert goalwards.
Ruddy turned to face the Barclay and thrust both arms skywards. A game Norwich were in danger of losing was now there for the taking. The dynamic switched again. Neil Warnock called for attacking reinforcements.
Norwich's defensive unit has found itself increasingly thrust into the spotlight; every perceived mistake highlighted and analysed. Each aberration seemingly triggering a direct threat on their own goal. Such is the fine margins at play in this unforgiving league.
Questions may well have been asked again at the manner of Rangers' leveller – emphatic though the finishes were from Mackie and Young. But with Russell Martin a calm, vocal influence at the heart of City's backline they repelled every surge, every cross into the box.
Ruddy exuded an air of authority to deal with the aerial menace. Leon Barnett reprised his role in the trenches at Anfield whilst Marc Tierney and Naughton offered solid support.
The Tottenham loanee rose with Heidar Helguson in a muscular mismatch at the far post but did more than enough to frustrate the big Icelandic striker who otherwise would have had the simplest of tasks to despatch Jay Bothroyd's dink.
Crofts and Bradley Johnson put their collective shoulders to the wheel to help repel Rangers' last stand. Alejandro Faurlin expertly pivoted away from Hoolahan in a stylish move City's own creative talent would have grudgingly appreciated but the rising finish failed to match the initial invention.
Johnson then dallied momentarily deep inside his own penalty area to allow Mackie a brief sighter, but the striker ballooned his shot into the crowd. With it went QPR's hopes of snatching at least a point.
Warnock predictably put a positive spin on the outcome for his side. Adjectives like 'robbed' and 'mugged' peppered his post-match briefing.
The Rangers' chief was no less forthright about his team's failings. His defenders had been the masters of their own downfall. Leaking goals which would not have been out of place in less salubrious surroudings. Music to the ears of those Norwich followers who have had to digest self-inflicted blows in recent times. It served as a timely reminder if the vastly experienced Warnock needed it. Actions always speak louder than words.