The meak performance in defeat at Sunderland in midweek would be a one-off, Norwich manager Paul Lambert promised, and so it proved. His Canaries were very much back to their best here, and thoroughly deserved to bring Bolton's revival to the sort of end which must have concerned manager Owen Coyle more than he was prepared to admit.
"In the circumstances, that's as good as we've been in the three seasons I've been here, the desire was brilliant," said Lambert. His side brushed off losing both centre-halves, Zak Whitbread and Daniel Ayala, to injury in a dominant first half, and though the second period was slightly less one-sided, it was the home team who continued to create the better chances before Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington got the goals which converted their superiority into three points.
Lambert made four changes to his starting line-up, including David Fox and Pilkington returning to midfield, while Simeon Jackson replaced Steve Morison alongside Grant Holt up front. Despite two transfer deadline day signings in Ryo Miyaichi from Arsenal and Marvin Sordell from Watford, Coyle was disinclined to tinker with a line-up which had seen the Trotters lose only once in their last eight matches in all competitions. The only change from the team which drew with Arsenal in their previous outing saw Tyrone Mears replace the injured Gretar Steinsson at right-back.
The first half was something of a procession. Whitbread, Holt and Jackson had all missed chances before Surman should have opened the scoring in the 24th minute. With only the Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan to beat from inside the six-yard box, he lifted the ball against the underside of the bar.
Bolton's only threat of the first half came late, a hopeful Martin Petrov shot deflected over the bar, and the Bulgarian also went close direct from a corner after the break, but otherwise it continued to be all Norwich, and soon after Holt had contrived to turn Pilkington's cross over the bar, Surman made the breakthrough.
His first effort was blocked, but the ball sat up nicely and at the second attempt he volleyed firmly beyond Bogdan. Petrov brought a decent save from John Ruddy with a well struck half volley, but Norwich continued to miss the majority of the chances, most notably when Holt turned Pilkington's cross over from short range, but with six minutes remaining, Bogdan spilled Holt's shot and Pilkington turned in the rebound.
"It was a blow losing the two centre-halves – they're big lads and we were up against a big side, but our substitutes were colossal," said Lambert.
Coyle, whose side next face Wigan, said: "I thought we started slowly, and though we changed things in the second half and looked more of a threat, the first goal was always likely to be decisive. We weren't at our best, we never got to the standard we're capable of, and I wouldn't argue that they deserved the three points."
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; Drury, Whitbread (Bennett, 40), Ayala (Martin, 23), Naughton; Pilkington, Fox, Hoolahan, Surman; Jackson (Morison, 74), Holt.
Bolton (4-2-3-1): Bogdan; Mears, Knight, Wheater, Ricketts; Reo-Coker, Muamba (K Davies, 57); Eagles (Tuncay, 73), M Davies, Petrov; N'Gog (Sordell, 82).
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Jackson (Norwich)
Match rating: 7/10
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