A “must-not-lose” game in the Premier League basement provided far more excitement than could reasonably have been expected from two struggling teams, who went through all the emotions in the final few minutes alone.
With five minutes to play Norfolk was thanking God for the wonderfully named Dieumerci Mbokani, who appeared to have thrashed in the winning goal and Newcastle United were saying their prayers. Then Rafa Benitez's bold substitutions paid a dividend with a second goal from Aleksandar Mitrovic, only for left-back Martin Olsson to break Newcastle hearts – those not already in pieces after another depressing season.
What it all means is that Norwich sit six points above their visitors and four clear of Sunderland, albeit having played a game more than both. They have the momentum, carried over from two good results before the international break, although the race is far from run.
The lesson for Newcastle, who had scored a pathetic total of seven goals in 15 previous away games, is that they need to unleash Mitrovic and go for it. Once they did in the second half, having already added Ayoze Perez as much needed support to lone and lonely striker Papiss Cisse, Norwich looked like conceding every time the ball was in the air.
“It's really painful,” Benitez said with some feeling. “The only thing we can take as a positive is the reaction of the team. The second halves have been good and we have to give this level for 90 minutes.”
After losing goalkeeper Rob Elliot for the rest of the season Benitez had been forced to bring in Karl Darlow, who had only played one previous Premier League game, at West Bromwich, and been blamed for the winning goal in it. Here there could be no faulting him. Indeed in a first half dominated by the home side he made excellent saves from Robbie Brady and Mbokani, who also had one effort crossed out for straying carelessly offside.
Norwich still led at the break, Swiss defender Timm Klose, the January signing from Wolfsburg, heading his first goal right on half-time, from Robbie Brady's free-kick.
The second period was a different story once Newcastle gave Cisse some help. The striker was spared a little of his embarrassment at a bad miss by being (wrongly) given offside before Mitrovic, entitled to think his equalising goal against Sunderland would earn him a start here, headed in a cross by Andros Townsend.
Only three minutes later Mbokani, starting almost from the touchline, came inside and found the top corner of the net. Mitrovic headed just wide from the excellent Jonjo Shelvey, then grabbed the ball as Gary O'Neil unnecessarily handled, planting his penalty confidently past John Ruddy's despairing dive.
The goalkeeper brilliantly saved Cisse's header and with a capacity crowd to resigned to stalemate, Newcastle failed to clear a cross hoisted in by O'Neil, and substitute Wes Hoolahan set up Olsson.
Norwich's Alex Neil, torn between sounding too jubilant and playing it all down, said: "It was a crucial win but all it's done is give us three points with six games to play. I've always believed (we can stay up)."
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Klose, Olsson; Jarvis (Redmoind, 75), O'Neil, Howson, Brady; Naismith (Hoolahan, 80); Mbokani (Jerome, 85).
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Janmaat, Mbemba, Taylor, Anita (Mitrovic, 61)f; Shelvey, Tiote (Perez, 46); Townsend, Wijnaldum, Sissoko; Cisse.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Man of the match: Klose.
Match rating: 8/10
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