NEIL EXPECTS CANARIES TO KEEP FLYING
ONLY the boldest observer would call the race for the automatic promotion places with any certainty, but Norwich City boss Alex Neil insists his side could steal it on the line after they routed Millwall.
Jonny Howson’s sublime 38thminute strike sparked an onslaught from the Canaries as they scored four goals inside a devastating 25-minute spell either side of half-time.
Norwich’s second came from the spot just before the interval, when Alan Dunne needlessly brought down Cameron Jerome, and Gary Hooper converted the resulting penalty.
The Lions’ misery continued after the restart as Wes Hoolahan fired in a third before Howson completed his double to ensure the visitors’ first win at The Den since 2003.
Lee Gregory’s spot kick provided meagre consolation for the relegation-threatened hosts, but they were overwhelmed by a rampant Norwich who are just one point off the top two, with Neil aware that anything less than automatic promotion would now be underwhelming.
“We wanted a positive response as we let ourselves down against Wigan, but all you can do is put it behind you and we certainly did that here,” he said.
“Jonny Howson produced a bit of quality to give us the edge and then we didn’t look back until they got a very soft penalty.
“In the first 25 minutes after the restart we really turned the screw and I thought we were excellent – it was as good as we’ve played since I’ve been here.
“We need to make sure that come the end of the season when the dust settles, we are in one of those top two spots.
“It wouldn’t be a failure to not make it but I’ll be disappointed if we don’t finish in the top two with the squad we’ve got and the run we are on.”
The contrast with Millwall’s fortunes could not be starker as beleaguered boss Ian Holloway was jeered by the home fans whenever he emerged from his dugout.
The Lions were on top for the first-half hour only to spurn two free-kicks in an excellent position after the lively Ricardo Fuller had drawn two clumsy fouls.
That wastefulness was duly punished when Howson surged forward to fire an exquisite leftfoot drive beyond keeper David Forde from outside the area.
While that was harsh on Millwall, the second goal was a gift as Dunne scythed down Jerome as the striker pursued a rebound from Forde’s save from Graham Dorrans and Hooper converted.
After the interval, Hoolahan capitalised on a slip by Sid Nelson to score with a left-foot drive and Howson completed the blitz as he guided the ball into the empty net from Jerome’s cut back on the hour.
Millwall weathered a further storm when Dorrans struck a post to grab a goal back through Gregory late on after Diego Fabbriani fell somewhat theatrically under Gary O’Neil’s challenge.
It was a miserable afternoon for the hosts, who are now eight points off safety.
“Their first goal was more than a blow,” said Holloway.
“Talk about a bullet to your heart, but I felt the boys kept going, until all of a sudden we’ve given a penalty away when it was running out for a throw.
“But I felt the lads kept going and showed a Millwall spirit, but maybe I’m the only one in the ground who did.
“I felt if I came out from the dugout, the fans would vent their spleen on me and that would not benefit the team.
“We were competing with Norwich on almost the same level but they scored and unfortunately the pessimism that kicks in after we concede a goal is killing us, so much so that everyone has forgotten last year.”
SPOT ON: Gary Hooper scores Norwich’s second with a penalty Inset: Wes Hoolahan adds the third