Red letter day for City season
Steve GedgeSecond in the league at Adams Park! It doesn't really have the same sort of ring, does it? However, you came away from Buckinghamshire on Saturday thinking it was the same sort of seismic weekend as that never-to-be-forgotten time in December 2003.Steve Gedge
Second in the league at Adams Park! It doesn't really have the same sort of ring, does it? However, you came away from Buckinghamshire on Saturday thinking it was the same sort of seismic weekend as that never-to-be-forgotten time in December 2003.
It certainly wasn't the same sort of straightforward win: despite Norwich dominating play far more than ever they did in Suffolk for most of the afternoon you did wonder whether the home keeper would ever be beaten, despite the fact that it was clear that one goal was always going to be enough for victory, whether it came in the seventh, 77th or 97th minute.
It was a highly frustrating afternoon: you couldn't really blame Norwich for not being ahead long before they scored.
True, the refereeing was all too often clueless and a very dogged home side were determined not to make it five goals conceded for both two games in a row and two successive fixtures against Norwich.
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City did try to overcomplicate things occasionally, and in the first half let the quite appalling Wycombe strikers get though to fire embarrassingly wide more times than they deserved.
But overall the Canaries' play was excellent. Like so many games of late we were several classes apart from the opposition.
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And you just begin to sense things are really going our way. In any of the last five seasons that late shot from Matthew Phillips would have trickled agonisingly slowly into the net rather than end up in the keeper's arms and we would have fallen behind to completely-outplayed opposition. No question.
But as opposed to a fairly recent misjudged injury-time goalkeeper's clearance going straight to a home player, the breaks are now going our way.
Saturday brought to mind the moment a referee played a helping hand - or deflection, to be more accurate - at Reading six seasons ago. City currently have the same feeling of unstoppable momentum about them.
That's not tempting fate for the upcoming visit of an Exeter side who have taken only eight out of a possible 36 away points this season - real off-days will still happen - but this current City line-up should lose no more than two or three times during the rest of the season.
And how different could this season have been had one of those losses occurred on Saturday?
Had we beaten Carlisle in the FA Cup that would probably have been us losing 3-1 at Everton and coming away with a sense of frustration at having run a Premier League side so close, but with nothing to show for it.
And then having to readjust to the real task in hand of playing catch-up with Charlton.
As it is though, we are, for now at least, in the driving seat, and having had to recover once from the shock of being beaten in the FA Cup by non-League opposition the Londoners have got to mount another quick recovery from a new setback.
Paul Lambert is still playing things down, although the way he greeted City's travelling support at the final whistle on Saturday was a tad over-celebratory by his standards, but the achievement of leading a totally out-of-sorts side from 22nd in the table to second in a very competitive division in your first four and a half months in charge deserves recognition and high praise.
With the way Leeds are going he probably won't get it outside Norfolk, but if the current top two maintain their positions until May 8 you would have to say that getting out of this division in a third of the time that Yorkshire's finest or Nottingham Forest took - and with much more limited finances, too - is something to really sing about.
t STAND UP FOR THE CHAIRBOYS
Whatever happens in the rest of the season - even were we to win 7-1 at a certain club in two week's time - for me Saturday was the most enjoyable away trip of the season. Helpful staff, extra tickets sold, stewards who were helpful and friendly (Southampton take note) - nothing seemed too much trouble for anyone at Adams Park, even though they must have been taken aback by the level of visiting support. And it wasn't just the result, or that the game was played on a holiday weekend.
There was one particular non-match moment that will be particularly remembered. It featured a half-time penalty shoot-out involving a local boys' team, staged at the away end. And they can't have expected quite the really enthusiastic reception they got from City fans, not least when some little tiny lad walked the ball in from a couple of feet out.
The boys even took a lap of honour, and when the coach hoisted the said youngster on his shoulders you'd have been forgiven for thinking that there were tears in his eyes. We certainly won a few extra supporters on Saturday, that's for sure.
The travelling support this season has been outstanding. Sure, the chants of 'We shoot burglars' are tiresome and you wish those responsible would shut up, but by and large away trips have been brilliant, even allowing for clubs not expecting such numbers or the St Mary's stewarding, which left everything to be desired. But there hasn't been any nasty trouble, and Saturday's interval should be remembered in 12 days' time when we visit Colchester. The club, let's not forget, who have had tickets for this game on open sale for some time, and the last time I looked there were barely 500 available through their website.
If there's any incident on January 16, however minor, who's going to get the blame? Norwich City, its supporters, or whoever dreamed up this cack-handed ticket sales method? I wonder.
t SADDLERS NEED TO JOIN 21ST CENTURY
One wonders if Phil Parkinson is going to get the same sort of public slagging in the West Midlands in the coming days as Paul Lambert has this past week.
Sorry, but in the 21st century professional clubs should either be using more advanced items of technology than heated dustbins to get matches played or must call off games early.
In all the furore surrounding the Walsall call-off, no-one really seemed to consider the fact that the home side really wanted the game on because of the large numbers of away fans expected for one of the Saddlers' top fixtures of the season.
Had it been one minibus-full coming down from Hartlepool last Monday it would have been a different matter, I'm sure. The same die-hards would have travelled to the West Midlands whether the match was played on a bank holiday afternoon or a Tuesday evening in February.
But 2,000 away fans from East Anglia? I imagine that because of the swift rearrangement of the fixture for a school night and a lingering sense of grievance against home officials there will be maybe a quarter of that making the trip a week tomorrow.
And how much will that cost Walsall? Never mind the points, that's why they really wanted the game on.
If this was any other season I would seriously suggest that we boycotted the January 12 trip. That would be the only way that the message would get through to clubs and league officials who treat supporters as total mugs rather than valued paying customers.
There was an element of such officialdom pig-headedness displayed on Monday when the referee, as usual, came out with the usual platitudes of: 'The players' safety was the priority.'
How about the interests of said paying customers - especially when maybe getting on for a third of the total attendance are travelling across the country - being a priority for once?
I don't dispute that the pitch wasn't up to it: one awkward stumble on a frozen pitch and our season could be ruined in much the same way as past ones have been through a tackle from Kevin Muscat or a pre-season injury at Southend.
So if Lambert was unsure about the pitch, then he had every right to voice the kind of concern that cash-conscious home officials ignored and the referee failed to identify early.
Still, at least only 644 Charlton advance ticket-holders were affected by Saturday's early call-off, so no major inconvenience there then, eh?