The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Jack Skel­ton

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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

SPOT ON: Gary Hooper scores Nor­wich’s sec­ond with a penalty Inset: Wes Hoola­han adds the third

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