Super sub rises to occasion yet again
Norwich City 2, Barnsley 1
Paul Lambert's habit of choosing the right man at the right time came up trumps again after another inspired substitution.
Again it was Anthony McNamee, again it was just after the hour mark when he was introduced and again he was involved in forcing an own goal that set City on their way to victory. Just as he did against Swansea three weeks ago.
It's the sort of performance that will have some fans suggesting he's worth a start. But why fix something that isn't broken?
McNamee has, according to Lambert, never given him a moment's grief about the fact that since he arrived at City last November, he has started only seven league games. It's refreshing, because the assumption is that he realises and accepts it's a team game.
If you come on with two thirds of the game over, you are still a major part of the team that either wins, loses or draws the match. Billy Big Boots who doesn't subscribe to that ethos upsets the rhythm and togetherness of the whole exercise.
As Lambert says, 'you win together and you lose together'.
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At the moment, City are winning together, because they are a team. Although Lambert had to start without two regulars, goalkeeper John Ruddy and midfielder Andrew Surman, the changes he was forced into making were pretty much seamless: Declan Rudd was rarely tested by a Barnsley side that got lucky once, while Simon Lappin knows that left channel as well as anyone in a yellow shirt and, as you'd expect, didn't let anyone down.
McNamee's introduction prompted some shuffling of staff, with Korey Smith pushed into a more central role to allow the winger space to patrol. His first task was to put the fear of God into the left back: box ticked. The second to get some decent crosses in: box ticked. The third: to get City back into the game after they gifted Barnsley a half-time lead: box ticked.
Within eight minutes of coming on, McNamee was loitering with intent on the right side of the Barnsley area. The pass he received from Wes Hoolahan to his left probably wasn't the best, but McNamee managed to get the other side of Jay McEveley and the ball was at his feet. Bonus. McNamee puts the whip of an angry cowboy into his crosses and when he sent one over, poor old Stephen Foster was committed to trying to head it out for a corner. He lunged, but he hadn't worked out the curvature, and all he succeeded in doing was putting it past hapless keeper Luke Steele.
It was the least City deserved, even if Barnsley boss Mark Robins did somehow manage to conclude that his team 'controlled most of the game'.
More accurate was his anger towards referee Gavin Ward, who ordered centre-half Jason Shackell to leave the pitch for treatment after the former City man had pulled up with cramp as he and Grant Holt chased a ball into the visitors' area. Whether Shackell wanted treatment is unclear, but in his absence perhaps Foster was trying to do two jobs at once – and failing in both. He was certainly in a part of the area where you'd assume Shackell would have been –had he been on.
Robins was probably miffed because he'd read the script and he knew what was coming – Martin providing it with the sort of finish that has become his trademark and of which the Barnsley boss would have been proud in his own playing days.
McNamee, having made his world record attempt at step-overs, sent a cross in from the right. Barnsley cleared it no farther than Adam Drury, in the area. The left-back - who had a cracking game - couldn't find room for a shot so slipped the ball to Martin on his left. That Martin's league tally was still on zero up until that split second was no fault of his own. But when he was given enough space to put it on his right foot, there was little doubt what was going to happen next as he wrapped his boot around the ball and sent it past Steele's outstretched left arm.
It was a gem – and Martin celebrated appropriately.
From then on there was no way back for Barnsley. Maybe if they'd made more of an effort in the first half it would have been different, but until their goal they had hardly been in it.
City had knocked it around beautifully at times: Korey Smith was magnificent, not just in his determination to win every ball, but in his close control and the way he used it. He really is a cracking player. Next to him Andrew Crofts has an uncanny knack of knowing more often than not exactly where he needs to stick a leg out to prevent an opposition pass being completed – although even that was overshadowed by some excellent full-blooded challenges which left bigger men than him writhing in 'pain' – and more than a few observers wincing.
Barnsley should have been beaten by half-time, but City couldn't find a way through their backline and it was the visitors who went in ahead, a free-kick from the right headed in by an unmarked McEveley. Lambert refused to name the player who failed to pick him up, but Martin knows who it was.
Barnsley opted to sit on their lead, but they just weren't good enough. While the second half was a more even affair and Barnsley did threaten a couple of times, City weren't able to advance their cause and it all became a little tiring. Which is when Lambert starts pulling master-strokes.
On came McNamee and off went Barnsley's hopes. Another stirring afternoon's work by City, who are turning this sort of show into an art form.
Was there a downside? Despite Lappin's more than decent performance in his first league start of the season, Surman will be a miss. He is pure quality at set-pieces and has something unpredictable about his play that makes him that bit special. Surman could be out for two months or more: when Lambert had similar news on centre-half Michael Nelson he went out and brought Leon Barnett in on loan. That option is now available to him again, although the club's finances make it an unlikely next move.
Plus, Lambert perhaps has enough midfielders to cover for Surman's absence – behind Lappin there's Stephen Hughes, a player who would walk into a lot of Championship sides.
And, of course, there's McNamee.