John O’Shea’s 63rd minute leveller tonight pushed Norwich ever deeper into the relegation mire as ten-man Sunderland contrived to dig out a potentially priceless point from a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City.
At the interval, it was all looking promising as Jon Walters’ early opener was followed by Craig Gardner’s first-half dismissal; a goal up and a man up, for once Tony Pulis’ Potters appeared to be doing Norfolk a favour.
Alas, no such luck as skipper O’Shea drilled home a second-half equaliser – a point that sees the Black Cats leap over Norwich. And given their far superior goal difference, so they would appear to be heading towards safety.
And given the manner of tonight’s draw, there appears to be plenty enough fire in the belly to drive them over the finishing line.
But it sums up just where Norwich have found themselves that they are now looking for other people to give them a helping hand after Saturday’s gut-wrenching 2-1 home defeat to Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa left them just three points clear of the drop zone with two games of the season remaining.
One of which is away to Manchester City on the final day of the season.
At least – and it is crumbs of comfort time – they are not alone in the last, frantic scramble to avoid joining Reading and QPR in the depths below.
Sunderland’s nearest and dearest are deep in the mire; they host Arsenal on the final day of the season.
And, of course, Wigan still have it all to do. And an FA Cup final appearance to make. But given the nature of their 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion and their own, intimate knowledge of just what you need spirit-wise to dig yourself out of the most almighty relegation holes, so few would bet against Roberto Martinez pulling off his latest miracle escape act. Fulham are going nowhere either.
“It’s tough to take,” said Hughton afterwards, as the debate raged as to his part in Norwich’s potential downfall.
They have been their own worst enemies all too often; stuck in a mind-set that ends up being neither one thing or the other; too poor defensively to defend a lead; too goal-shy going forward to build on one and kill contests off.
Throw in the usual array of hard luck stories that invariably beset the Norfolk club at both the best and the worst of times and next weekend’s home clash with the Baggies is now the proverbial mountain, when it should – by now – have been no more than a mole-hill.
One false move could now be fatal. It is down to the barest of wires.
“It’s massive,” was Hughton’s simply summing up of that final home game of the season; 90 minutes plus of football where Norwich have to get the result right. Performances don’t count.
“We then go away to Manchester City which you know is going to be tough – so, yes, [on the back of this result] the West Brom game becomes an even bigger game.”
Again, Norwich contrived to drag defeat from the jaws of at least a draw. The fact that the performance and the tempo were better was of scant consolation once Gabby Agbonlahor went to work on City’s all-too porous defence. Neither goal looked good on the replay.
“We conceded a poor first goal, got ourselves back into the game – and rightly so,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards.
“And at that stage, apart from looking to win the game, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t lose it. They’ve opened us up again on the counter and if you give a lad like Agbonlahor that kind of time and space, then he can hurt you. And he’s hurt you on two occasions.
“We can’t concede goals like that and expect to win football matches and we need to be more of a threat ourselves,” he added.
Which pretty much sums it up.