JACKSON'S THRILLING FINISH
16 May 2011
SIMEON Jackson is guaranteed a prominent place in Norwich City history following his promotion-winning goal at Portsmouth on May 2.
Man-of-the-match Jackson has been living in dreamland since his ninth goal in seven games extended a red-hot streak of form to seal Norwich City's promotion to the Premier League.
Jackson's 13th goal of the season proved unlucky for Cardiff City as the striker met David Fox's wonderful curling pass with a powerful diving header that flashed past Pompey 'keeper Jamie Ashdown to spark wild celebrations among a 3,000-strong army of travelling Canaries fans.
"It is dreamland; we're really pleased, especially as it's been so tight for promotion with all the teams that were in the running," reflected Jackson, as the magnitude of City's achievement slowly began to sink in 24 hours after the decisive 1-0 victory.
"And you feel emotional; you work so hard, and now that you've achieved it - it's just amazing."
City knew victory at Fratton Park would secure promotion after rivals Cardiff crashed 3-0 at home to Middlesbrough earlier in the evening.
"I couldn't watch that," admits Jackson. "I'd decided in my head we had to win anyway, but it did make the pre-game routine a bit more nerve-racking; and going into the game knowing we had an opportunity to get the job done definitely put more pressure on the game. Portsmouth were trying to make it difficult for us, and a lot of teams might have slipped up, but credit to the lads for getting the win."
City had to survive some rugged Portsmouth challenges in the early stages, with Aaron Mokoena booked for sending Jackson flying. But the Canaries dug in to secure back-to-back promotions thanks to Jackson's decisive strike five minutes after half-time.
"Just before that I remember making a run on the left and I thought: 'I'm getting a bit tired' so I thought 'just get in the box'. Foxy's delivery was unbelievable, but he can spot a pass for anyone; as soon as I sensed it was going to beat the defender it was a question of making sure I got my head on it. I just tried to head it low and on target, and I was delighted to see the net ripple, especially in front of our own fans.
"When the final whistle blew it was a shock: I saw everyone running on the pitch, and it hit me that we'd done it; then everyone starts celebrating; it was such a great moment. Now that we have achieved what we wanted it's very satisfying."
Jackson's winning goal secured his personal place in Canary folklore, and completed a remarkable comeback for the former Rushden striker who was signed by Paul Lambert from Gillingham last summer for a reported Ł600,000.
After scoring four goals early in the season the Jamaican-born Canadian international endured a long barren run in which he failed to find the net in more than five months.
But in one goal-laden month he pushed City over the finishing line, following up his morale-boosting hat-trick against Scunthorpe with vital strikes against Watford and Ipswich, and another incredible treble against Derby. His never-to-be-forgotten strike at Fratton Park on Monday arrived exactly one month after his revival got under way against Scunthorpe.
"It's not down to me, it's down to everyone," says Jackson. "Holty's been magnificent for us, scoring many goals earlier in the season. If it wasn't for him, and if it wasn't for all the last-minute winners, the goals from everyone else, we wouldn't be where we are. My timing was a bit late - but better late than never!
"It's been a roller-coaster ride. At the beginning everything was fresh and I was getting used to it; I started playing, and went on a run of games; then I was in and out, and that was tough. But the way we play, and the spirit within the squad and the Club did help me out at times, especially the skipper, Holty, and a couple of the other lads.
"It was very difficult. It's the first time in my career where I have been in and out of the side, and with the quality of players we've got here it's been very difficult. I always believed that my time would come, but it was tough, and when you see players going out on loan you think: 'Is that me?', and there were rumours that I might go out on loan. I'm so pleased to have turned that round and to play a part in the crucial part of the season.
"The fans have been great with me. People have a right to ask questions, but the fans who have come up to me have always said they could see how hard I was working and the effort I was putting in, and that it just wasn't coming off.
"It's weird. Sometimes it's just a little thing; it's important to keep going, and I did that when things were rough. You have to make it work, and keep going to make it turn round.
"The lads were encouraging me, and I knew that when the chance came along again I had to make sure I was ready to take it. After the international break I took my chance, and stayed in the team."
Jackson's revival began on April 2, when he was introduced as a 70th minute substitute for Dani Pacheco in the 6-0 victory over Scunthorpe at Carrow Road. The Canaries already had the points in the bag thanks to a Grant Holt hat-trick, but there was still time for Jackson to add his own 15-minute treble.
Those goals added the icing on the cake of City's biggest league victory in 40 years - and gave Jackson a vital shot of confidence as he emerged in style from a goalless sequence which had lasted since his 44th minute winner in the 1-0 win over Middlesbrough at Carrow Road on October 23.
"I remember watching from the bench against Scunthorpe, and thinking we were on for a big win because they'd had a man sent off, and I was thinking: 'I just really want to get on'. I was really excited at the thought of getting on because I knew because of the way we play there would be chances; I was dying to get on!
"I was warming up, and Cully (Ian Culverhouse) told me I would be coming on after around 60 minutes so it was really exciting to get on. As a striker you want to score goals, and if you're not scoring goals it makes a difference. I was brought to the Club to score goals. Sometimes it happens for you, sometimes it doesn't happen, but I have always worked hard in every game."
Jackson netted again in the 2-2 draw at Watford, and his return to form was confirmed with a clinical glancing finish from Holt's cross for the third goal in the 5-1 victory at Ipswich.
"We picked up a lot of confidence after that. It was a big result, and Ipswich were on a good run of form, but it was important for us to keep our run going, and it was a night for the fans to remember."
Jackson then scored his second hat-trick in the space of three home games in the breathtaking victory over Derby on April 25. A powerful close-range header and an exquisite first-time chip twice put City ahead, but with the Rams twice striking back it appeared that Cardiff were now winning the race for automatic promotion - until an attempted clearance struck Jackson in the midriff and somehow bobbled over the line in the sixth minute of injury-time to secure an incredible 3-2 success. Even by the standards of this season's run of last-gasp winners, it was a sensational finish.
"The hat-trick had a bit of everything - it was amazing. I didn't really know anything about the last one, so you could say it was lucky - then again, some might say I was in the right place at the right time. It was an amazing feeling; one of my top games because of the importance of those goals for Norwich.
"It was frustrating to score and then see Derby equalise twice, but I knew we would have more chances; the way we've been playing we don't want the season to end; training has been amazing, everyone's enjoying their football, and that's shown itself on the pitch. I don't think anyone would have tipped us to do what we have done."
Jackson's jubilant team-mates could be spotted massaging champagne into the striker's scalp as the Sky Sports team interviewed him in the dressing room following Monday's success. He has confirmed, though, that his official bottle of man-of-the-match bubbly escaped a similar fate.
"I managed to hide that away; I haven't got it back yet but it's still around somewhere; We had an enjoyable time, but we've got another game against Coventry and that's going to be a big day now," says Jackson.
"It's the best group of players I have ever been part of; it's lovely to be part of something like this. Every player, from their first day, experiences a real welcome, and a togetherness, and it just shows on the pitch. The camaraderie, and togetherness, and team spirit has just been a massive part of what's happened."
And, before City kick off next season in the Premier League, Jackson hopes to carry his current goalscoring form into the international arena during this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the North American equivalent of the European Championships. The tournament is taking place in the USA, with Canada due to face the host nation in Detroit on June 7 before subsequent group games against Guadeloupe and Panama.
"I'm definitely on a good run, so with international commitments coming up I'd like to keep that form going for the Gold Cup with Canada in June. I don't want the season to end right now."
For now, Jackson is ecstatic to be celebrating his second promotion in three seasons, having previously headed a 90th minute Wembley winner as Gillingham beat Grant Holt's Shrewsbury 1-0 in the League Two play-off final in 2009.
"That was a special match; scoring two goals in the semi-final against Rochdale, and scoring the winner in the last minute of the final - I can't explain in words how that feels. When you have that experience it's a special moment; the feeling this time is similar but the prize is bigger this time round.
"It's amazing. I spoke on the phone with my family, and they were reminding me that we'll be playing Manchester United and Arsenal next season. It's just what you always dream about; that's why you play, to get to the highest level, and we have earned the right to be there. I'm looking forward to every single game; just being in the league and having the opportunity to mix it with the big boys."