Norwich sense gain from pain as Svensson sets up storming finish

Norwich City 1 - Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

Standing in a corridor outside the dressing-rooms at Carrow Road, the Norwich City manager, Nigel Worthington, repeated the simple formula that may yet see his club preserve their place in the Premiership; pain before pleasure.

Standing in a corridor outside the dressing-rooms at Carrow Road, the Norwich City manager, Nigel Worthington, repeated the simple formula that may yet see his club preserve their place in the Premiership; pain before pleasure.

Ten points from the last 12, seven in a week, have lifted Norwich level on points with Crystal Palace in 17th place and convinced their supporters that survival is possible.

A near-capacity crowd saw Norwich take another big step in the right direction, although as Worthington was quick to stress, they have only one foot over the doorstep. "The players have performed magnificently, the crowd was marvellous today, really got behind us, but the job still has to be done," the Ulsterman said.

For 88 minutes it looked as though passion would not be enough to take those vital extra points. Then Adam Drury sent a long throw from the left, Dean Ashton headed it on and his strike partner Leon McKenzie got a touch that dropped for Mathias Svensson, who seemed to take an age before belting the ball past Dean Kiely to score against his old club. Cue pandemonium. The Norwich supporters rose as one, their belief in a miracle restored.

It has been a difficult time for Svensson. Disappointed when Charlton released him in December 2003 and injured last December, he was out for three months and on his return the partnership between Ashton and McKenzie was settled.

With 10 minutes left on Saturday, the sight of Svensson ready to come on must have further rattled Charlton, whose defensive wall was beginning to look shaky. Svensson's first contribution saw him running on to Ashton's overhead lob, only for Kiely to make a smart save. The crowd groaned, and plenty of hearts were in mouths when Danny Murphy's free-kick took a deflection that sent the ball against the base of Robert Green's left-hand post.

Then, as against Newcastle in mid-week, Norwich staged a storming finish that Charlton were not physically equipped to repel. "They had a lot of big guys in the penalty area for that long throw and I sensed we wouldn't be able to deal with it," the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, said.

Later Svensson reran the goal in his mind; how slowly the ball seemed to fall for him, the surprising amount of time at his disposal, the fear that he would get under the shot and balloon it over. "I kept my head, let it sit up and made sure I kept the ball down." Simple really.

Norwich have a wholesome look. They defend stoutly, there is good running support from midfield and Ashton has made a big difference up front. Whether it will be enough to keep them up remains to be seen. Saturday's match at Southampton is critical - and Norwich have not won away all season.

It takes a season to get relegated, not a month. But Norwich have momentum. The Canaries have talons. The defeat of Manchester United at Carrow Road gave them an enormous boost.

"I think it proved to the players that they were better than our position in the table," Worthington added. "We showed today that our fitness levels are good, which will be hugely important over the next couple of weeks."

Once again Charlton are finishing the season poorly, unable to sustain their form. Last week, Curbishley argued that his team had a "fighting chance" of reaching Europe. On Saturday he conceded that perhaps they lack the quality to reach a top-six place. "We look at every season and every season we are left looking for answers. You can't complain about effort, but we just don't get there."

Without holding anything against the other relegation-threatened clubs, Curbishley would be pleased to see Norwich survive. "In many ways they are closest to us in the way they are set up," he said. "Norwich are a well-run club operating on limited resources."

The big difference is that Charlton are well established as a mid-table club in the Premiership. For Norwich it is a cliffhanger that stretches the emotions of their supporters. A makeshift banner held up in the crowd pleaded for "Two more wins -please." It could be enough.

"We've not achieved anything yet," Worthington said. "Can we get the other foot over the doorstep? We'll see, but with this team we always have a fighting chance."

Pain before pleasure.

Goal: Svensson (88) 1-0.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Helveg, Fleming, Shackell, Drury; Bentley (Svensson, 80), Francis, Safri, Johnson (Huckerby, 63); Ashton, McKenzie (Holt, 89). Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Brennan.

Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Kiely; Kishishev, Fortune, El Karkouri, Young; Rommedahl, Hughes (Euell, 62), Murphy, Holland, Johansson (Thomas, 82); Jeffers. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Perry, Lisbie.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Norwich City Helveg; Charlton Athletic El Karkouri.

Man of the match: McKenzie.

Attendance: 25,459.