Chris Hughton’s managerial woes multiplied seven-fold this afternoon as the Canaries were subjected to a brutal, 7-0 defeat by an irrepressible Manchester City.
Own goals from Bradley Johnson and, if not given, Russell Martin helped the hosts walk into a 4-0 lead within the first 35 minutes.
After the break, they would pile on the agony with another three strikes from the top drawer – the pick of the bunch being a free-kick special from YaYa Toure.
Norwich never really got a grip on the game; from almost first minute to last they were chasing shadows. But for two or three decent saves from John Ruddy after the break, it could have been double figures.
Gary Hooper lasted 45 minutes before being withdrawn – once again, Hughton was left with a huge question mark hanging over that No9 berth. Nothing is working for him at the tip of his side. Albeit this was always going to be a huge mountain to climb – for anyone outside of that gilded top six.
West Ham United at home will now be the usual ‘six-pointer’; with an international break then looming, it could yet be the moment when the board has to decide whether to stick or twist manager-wise.
This result and the lame performance that lay at its heart will have done no-one any favours.
Before the match much was made of Manchester City’s big change for today’s visit of the troubled Canaries – the Premier League debut of keeper Costel Pantilimon in place of the out-of-sorts Joe Hart.
For the Canaries needs were beginning to must selection-wise after that sapping mid-week cup trip to Old Trafford – a defeat that cost them dearly in terms of injuries to their two most creative wide players, Robert Snodgrass and Nathan Redmond.
With record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Alexander Tettey also absent, it forced Hughton to throw Steven Whittaker in on the right-hand side of midfield and hand a recall to Johnson in the heart of that Canary midfield.
Both would have their hands full as their star-studded hosts looked to maintain their 100 per cent record at The Etihad; the big guns were all out, too – Toure, Samir Nasri, Sergio Agüero and David Silva were out and about; stretching Norwich from the start.
In fairness, Norwich had the blue half of Manchester thinking too; Anthony Pilkington and Jonny Howson probing around the edge of the box in the game’s opening exchanges.
It was Nasri who came the closest early on; a give and go ending with a blaze against the outside of John Ruddy’s right upright.
If the Canaries thought they had been sailing under a particularly cruel moon of late, that impression was merely confirmed in the 15th minute as their hosts took a hugely fortuitous lead.
Gaël Clichy broke down the left, the ball finally finding its way to Agüero. Michael Turner blocked the first shot, only for the ball to ricochet up off Johnson and loop gently over a completely wrong-footed Ruddy.
That was unlucky; the second that followed within five minutes was more about class telling as Agüero broke behind the City back four and pulled the ball back invitingly to the fast-arriving Silva. His effort was low and true, but gave Ruddy a chance to save. In the event the Canary keeper’s left-hand could only divert the ball up and into the roof of the net and within the space of the opening 20 minutes the contest was all-but over.
Bang, bang. Job done. Unless someone had a minor miracle tucked up their sleeve.
They didn’t; instead City added a third as Matija Nastasic played an in-off off a luckless Martin from a Nasri corner. Three down in 25 minutes with two deflected own goals off first Johnson and then Martin. What’s yer luck?
It left the Canaries shell-shocked and gutted; dazed and dumb-founded; stuck firmly on the back foot courtesy of those three goals in nine minutes.
It would be a long, long afternoon at The Etihad and an even longer trip home for the club’s long-suffering supporters.
Few could have realistically have hoped to take much out of today’s fixture, but to be down and out within the first half-hour wouldn’t improve anyone’s mood.
Nor would the fourth on 36 minutes. Agüero was half a yard offside as he took Toure’s through-ball. That small detail apart, it was still all-too easy as Álvaro Negredo was handed a tap in. Norwich were falling apart. Their hosts were having a ball as the half-time whistle blew.
Young Josh Murphy was handed his Premier League debut after the break as the FA Youth Cup winner and Johan Elmander replaced Whittaker and Hooper respectively. The ball had to stick up top better than it had if Norwich were to avoid a repeat of their first-half miseries.
Elmander would stab a fleeting chance the wrong side of a post as Norwich briefly found their way into the opposition half – an opportunity that summed up the Canaries current woes to a T. T for totally toothless.
The fifth on the hour was a YaYa Toure special. Felled by a despairing Johnson on the edge of the D, he picked himself up and picked the top right corner of Ruddy’s goal. The Canary keeper was always going to be second to it. And was.
There was an inevitability to Agüero’s name popping up on the score-sheet. It did on the 71st minute with a low strike into the bottom corner as Norwich found themselves with no place to hide.
Edin Dzeko was in merciless mood as he was given half-a-yard to turn and drill No7 into another bottom corner. Here was the difference. These players at this level find the corners every time; they give the keeper no chance.
Last weekend, Norwich never found a corner; they found the keeper every time.
This weekend they were taken apart and dismantled in horribly brutal fashion as the one-time Premier League champions showed them how it is done.