Russell carries Norwich City over the line

David CuffleyNorwich City 2, Gillingham 0: It seemed like rather stingy odds on the part of the bookmakers when Gillingham, the only team in League One without an away win this season, were quoted at 9-2 to pull off the victory that would spoil Norwich City's promotion party.David Cuffley

Norwich City 2, Gillingham 0

It seemed like rather stingy odds on the part of the bookmakers when Gillingham, the only team in League One without an away win this season, were quoted at 9-2 to pull off the victory that would spoil Norwich City's promotion party.

After clinching an immediate return to the Championship by winning in the most testing circumstances at Charlton, it was hard to see how the Canaries, backed by an expectant full house in their penultimate home game of a triumphant campaign, could fail to secure the victory - or at the very least the one point - needed to claim the title their efforts so thoroughly merited.

Anyone willing to back a team with just six points on their travels to beat the champions elect on their own ground on such a day might have felt entitled to odds of at least 10-1.

Yet there was just a brief spell in the early stages of the second half at Carrow Road when the relegation-threatened Gills had the chance to take the gloss off a memorable occasion for another 25,000-plus packed house.

City goalkeeper Fraser Forster, whose heroics at The Valley had - after Michael Nelson's winning goal - effectively put the seal on promotion, was called upon twice in the space of eight minutes to keep his side on terms, those huge hands fending off goalbound efforts by Gillingham striker Dennis Oli.

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If Forster does not concede another goal in the final two matches of the campaign, he will equal the legendary Kevin Keelan's record of 19 clean sheets in the Division Two promotion campaign of 1974-75 - and his contribution to his team's success will have been just as immense.

In the end, City's victory, and with it the League One trophy, was secured by two men scoring on home territory for the first time this season, Darel Russell with a delightful effort that graced the occasion but was out of keeping with the rest of the match, and Nelson with a virtual replica of his winner at Charlton.

It took the Canaries 74 minutes to get their noses in front, however, and in contrast to the bubbly atmosphere that greeted the teams, the first half was as flat as any 45 minutes this season.

Manager Paul Lambert, without the injured Russell Martin, also decided to leave Adam Drury and Simon Lappin on the bench and City's raids down the left lacked the usual fluency.

It was more than a quarter of an hour before either side seriously threatened, when a foul by Mark Bentley on City skipper Grant Holt gave Chris Martin a free-kick opportunity from the left-hand corner of the penalty area. It was classic Martin territory but he curled his shot just over the top.

Three minutes later, Martin went closer when he did well to bring down Korey Smith's lob and fired just wide across the face of goal, under pressure from Bentley.

Russell was off target from long range when Anthony McNamee's corner was only partially cleared but, with Gillingham failing to manage a shot on target, that was the limit of the excitement in the opening half.

City replaced McNamee with Stephen Elliott at the interval but it was the visitors who suddenly found their feet. In the fourth minute after the break, they might have gone ahead when Oli broke down the right, cut between Gary Doherty and Michael Rose and struck a left-foot shot that Forster did well to beat away, diving to his right.

Winger Andy Barcham twice had openings, curling a right-foot shot wide and then being halted by an important challenge by Michael Spillane.

And the Gills really should have done better when Rene Howe latched on to Danny Jackman's pass and got the better of Nelson and Rose, setting up Oli for a close-range effort that he scuffed, enabling Forster to claw it away with his left hand. Jackman then fired wide, left-footed, when he might have hit the target - and Gillingham's final chance of an upset had gone.

City perked up and Holt fired wide after chesting down Spillane's through-ball, while Elliott headed wide from Chris Martin's cross.

The introduction of Simon Lappin - left out of the starting eleven in a league match for the first time since Lambert's arrival - heralded further improvement from the leaders and they did not have long to wait for the opening goal.

City might have been awarded a penalty when Darren Dennehy appeared to handle a header from Elliott but the appeals had barely died down when the breakthrough came.

Elliott challenged Adam Miller on the edge of the penalty area, the ball running loose to Russell, who picked up possession to curl in a splendid right-foot shot that struck the underside of the bar and bounced down behind the line, the eagle-eyed assistant referee signalling the goal.

Chris Martin was denied by the diving Alan Julian as he tried to extend City's lead, but the result was put beyond doubt in the 82nd minute.

Lappin's deadly dead-ball accuracy paid off again when his inswinging corner from the right was met by the unmarked Nelson's downward header, and the celebrations were well and truly in full swing.

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