Wins key as Norwich City try to get up to speed in the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City did exactly what was required to ensure their bid to bounce back from relegation did not continue in reverse.
While a nervy single-goal home victory against Cardiff did little to suggest the Canaries are approaching anywhere near hitting full throttle, at least the handbrake was released by the unconvincing triumph.
City's start to their push for Championship promotion came shuddering to a halt with a crushing 3-0 defeat at Birmingham before the international break. While the manner of the loss was alarming, at least Saturday's triumph has ensured the wheels haven't fallen off.
Boss Alex Neil knows it's a long road back to the Premier League. He's been on it before. But this time he's had to begin his journey from the off rather than taking over in the driving seat in order to help Norwich regain control of their destiny.
There were always going to be some bumps in the road, such is life in what has become a rat race to get out of the second tier. Newcastle United and Aston Villa have already suffered some since going down. The duo, and City, will no doubt experience some more between reaching their final destination. Whether that will arrive in the top two positions, or via a victorious play-off final trip to Wembley, is yet to be seen. But at least Norwich have got things moving back in the right direction.
As Neil continues to tinker with his set-up to get City operating as smoothly as possible, the mechanics might not always be right. Yet at this stage of the season it is more about the outcome than the performance.
Did Norwich get the job done against Cardiff? Yes. Are they three points closer towards where they need to be? Yes. To put it simply, for now it doesn't matter that their latest display wasn't all that efficient.
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With Cameron Jerome, Graham Dorrans and Ivo Pinto returning from injury – and Russell Martin making his first league start of the term – it's little surprise that City struggled to get out of top gear at times.
And although it was the visitors from Wales who got up to speed first at Carrow Road, they were overtaken in the scoring stakes when Jerome pounced during his side's first major forward movement. Jacob Murphy's cross nearly bent into the far post with keeper Ben Wilson's save only serving to tee up the hitman who, at the second time of asking, squeezed the ball across the line.
City may have remained somewhat laboured as their midfield cogs tried to take control but when Martin made it two with a header – which appeared to take a deflection off Jonny Howson on its way into the net – just before the hour mark there was only one team whose fortunes were heading up the wrong street.
Neil quickly made attacking changes as City accelerated through the gears. Had they have made it three, they could have raced away with it. But the men in yellow took their foot off the gas and almost paid for it. Anthony Pilkington was allowed space inside a crowded six-yard-box with less than five minutes of normal time remaining to turn the ball across the line with his chest.
And even though Josh Murphy put his foot down before bending a beautiful effort around Lee Peltier and beyond a sprawling Wilson from distance, City still failed to pull clear.
Pilkington netted another from close range and wheeled away in delight to cap a smooth personal display. But he and his team-mates had little to show for it when the final whistle blew. For all their pace and energy they were heading home with an empty tank.
City's has been refilled with three more points from an afternoon that saw them found wanting in several departments. But even though they may have spluttered across the line at the weekend, at least their bid to gain momentum didn't stall like it did last time out at St Andrew's.