Norwich City rise to the occasion on day of destiny

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesAfter not playing last week at Arsenal, Elliott Bennett returned to action for Norwch and scored the dramatic winner in the 52nd minute.

When the day of reckoning arrived, Norwich City responded magnificently to edge towards the cusp of Premier League safety.

This was it. City's season of highs and lows condensed into whether Chris Hughton's men could overcome relegation certainties Reading in one 90 minute shift. Ryan Bennett and his namesake Elliott Bennett struck twice in two frenzied second half minutes before Garath McCleary's long-range strike ratcheted up the tension to unbearable levels. The hosts held firm to record a priceless 2-1 Premier League win which should in all probability guarantee a third consecutive season of top flight football.

- Match report: Norwich City 2-1 Reading

City's home support offered a regenerative source of renewal after McCleary's hit had set up a gut-wrenching final quarter. The noise that echoed around Carrow Road for the entire five torturous minutes of added on time was reminiscent of the din that greeted Simeon Jackson's stoppage time winner almost two years to the day, which carried City out of the Championship on a wave of euphoria. With the likes of Stoke and Manchester City left on the road this season and no less appetising games against former boss Paul Lambert's Aston Villa and West Brom at home, this was their day of destiny.

The club's hierarchy whipped the atmosphere up to fever pitch pre-match with legendary figures in Norwich's recent history like Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby sharing the limelight alongside the next generation, who reached City's first FA Youth Cup final since 1983 during the week.

Hughton's collective surged forward from the off. Reading were suffocated for time and space but as the half elapsed and Norwich failed to build on that early river of momentum, Nigel Adkins' men began to advance with worrying regularity.

Pavel Pogrebynak was richly supported by the likes of McCleary and Jobi McAnuff breaking from midfield. Only halftime could disrupt Reading's rhythm -- but what a response from the Canaries. Ryan Bennett lashed home from inside the six yard box after Alex McCarthy could only parry Grant Holt's powerful header. Then the Royals' stopper was distracted sufficiently by the aerial prowess of Holt to pat towards Elliott Bennett. The former Brighton man would deservedly have felt aggrieved at his Arsenal omission last weekend after a stirring shift against Swansea last time out at home. But Bennett's reward was the adrenaline rush that must have coursed through his veins after he chested McCarthy's touch and then drilled through the keeper as he fell backwards eight yards out.

Hughton's men surged forward in search of the third goal that would have effectively avoided the grandstand finale. Kei Kamara and Jonny Howson were both denied by the Reading keeper in a breathless rise in the intensity of Norwich's attacking urges. But McCleary's response provided a microcosmic slice of City's entire season. In the most fertile periods of the campaign, they have retained a vulnerability. Mark Bunn was unable to keep out McCleary's swinging hit and the deflation was audible.

McCleary's acrobatic bicycle kick flew a yard wide in a frenetic stoppage time spell but City survived. Hughton's squad have been tested routinely during a turbulent few months since the turn of the year. They are well used to the challenge by now.

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