City scale the heights

BEST whisper it lest it raises too many hopes, but Norwich City are in the top half of the table.Not since two games of the 07-08 season had passed have City reached such dizzy heights - and not since November 2006, when the table did actually mean something, have they cracked the top 10.

BEST whisper it lest it raises too many hopes, but Norwich City are in the top half of the table.

Not since two games of the 07-08 season had passed have City reached such dizzy heights - and not since November 2006, when the table did actually mean something, have they cracked the top 10.

Admittedly, only five league games have been played and it will be a while before a more realistic picture emerges, but for City fans enjoying the first away win in the league since March, it's a case of taking every opportunity to bask in a little bit of glory.

Little signs are beginning to emerge that reflect the pre-season betting market: Charlton and Leeds haven't been beaten, which is probably no great surprise, while MK Dons and Huddersfield are, as expected, on their coat-tails.

In normal circumstances Southampton would have been in the equation, but they started on -10 points, and even without that would still be in the drop zone, having taken just three from the first month.

And then there's City, who maybe never expected the start to their League One campaign to have come under such scrutiny. Perhaps now that they've started to achieve some sort of normality by featuring in a run-of-the-mill 2-0 win rather than the scoring free-for-alls of late, the spotlight will shine elsewhere.

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You get the feeling Paul Lambert would have no objection.

Lambert has engineered successive victories which have lifted City out of the drop zone and, if you have your glass half full, just two points off the play-offs, just two points behind the team that whipped them 7-1 at home on the opening day.

At least it's onwards and upwards rather than backwards and downwards.

By this time next week they could be sixth - to do that they will have to make it three league wins in a row, a task not accomplished since January/February 2008, although we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves.

The fact is that Lambert's two league wins have come against Wycombe and, on Saturday, Hartlepool, and while footballers enjoy reciting the truism that you can only beat what's put in front of you, the advice from this vantage point is to get money on one or both of those two for relegation.

Wycombe were average, for sure: Hartlepool were worse.

Not even home advantage where a gale force wind blew across Victoria Park and towards the North Sea could help them on Saturday.

Chris Turner's team can't buy a home win - they've now gone five on the trot without a point - and were lucky to escape with a mild rap on the knuckles from City rather than a full-blown kick in the unmentionables.

As soon as City got used to the wind, it was their game to win.

The strains of “Two Little Boys” - the song, not a pair of young home fans - were quickly, and thankfully, blown away as City gently imposed their authority on the game.

There's a discipline about the Lambert team - the result of working on team shape no doubt - that clearly encourages team play rather than one-man shows.

Is that why Wes Hoolahan was left out?

And what of Lambert's man-management skills?

Were they at work when Gary Doherty was told to leave his suitcase at home and Michael Nelson recalled for a trip back to the club he left in the summer having possibly believed his Norwich career was going the same way as Michael Theoklitos' - nowhere?

It isn't always going to be pleasing on the eye in League One, so when needs must, they did - the wind and the opposition sometimes prompted a long hoof forward, but when Stephen Hughes encouraged full use of the midfield and wide men, City were a class apart.

Hughes was good in the first half - in the second he was excellent, striving forward, supporting the attack, but also doing a fine job on the edge of his own area, protecting his back four. Korey Smith does a similar job - and he's still learning.

The changes Lambert made a week ago and then for the Carling Cup on Monday meant his line-up was hard to predict, but he stuck pretty closely to the original: the only changes were forced on him, with Michael Spillane suspended and keeper Ben Alnwick injured.

That meant Paul McVeigh and Simon Lappin on the flanks again - coincidentally, two players who might also have thought their days at City were over, for different reasons.

Both have a second chance; both are taking it. McVeigh had a hand in two goals the previous weekend, and was involved in both on Saturday.

For the first he dribbled into the area on the byline, pulled the ball back for Hughes to shoot and, when keeper Scott Flinders parried, Nelson was there to scissor-kick it home.

It was a cracking finish, but the start of the move hadn't been shabby either.

That was just before the half-hour mark: just after an hour and it was game over, with a goal that would have brought deep satisfaction to the City bench.

It started in City's own penalty area, with Jens Berthel Askou getting a good header on to a Hartlepool corner.

City broke quickly, McVeigh picked the ball up on the right and played a lovely pass over the heads of the retreating defenders.

The admirable Grant Holt took possession, Hughes overlapped on his left, received the ball in his stride and planted a sweet shot past Flinders' left hand and into the far corner.

There might have been more: City deserved it for their dominance, but for the time being we should settle for what we have, it makes such a change.

For the time being it's the Johnstone's Paint Trophy tonight at home to Brentford, when you can almost certainly expect another big raft of changes.

Whether or not Hoolahan and Doherty feature may depend on the intentions of Swansea and Watford, but the bench that Lambert selected on Saturday might yield a few clues.

Simon Whaley was the senior member at the age of 24 - flanked by Cody McDonald (23), Chris Martin (20), Luke Daley (19), keeper Declan Rudd (18) and a pair of 17-year-olds in Tom Adeyemi and David Stephens.