Two goals from England’s Wayne Rooney and two more from second-half substitute Juan Mata condemned Neil Adams’ Canaries to an all-too predictable 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford – and sent them spiralling ever nearer a return to the Championship.
Fulham might have been held to a 2-2 draw at home to Hull City; Norwich might still be one point clear of the bottom three. But the Londoners have Crystal Palace at home on the final day of the season. City have Arsenal at home.
And in between lies the small matter of Chelsea (a).
Norwich barely laid a glove on United as Ryan Giggs’ managerial debut proved something of a walkover. Or if they did, the game was long over as a contest.
For while the Canaries might have held out for the first 40 minutes until Rooney opened the scoring from the penalty spot, thereafter they were just spectators as United relaxed, pushed the ball about with a level of confidence rarely seen from the Champions this season.
Adams’ ability to change the course of the events this season was always going to be open to question – if only for the fact that was his hands were tied by having the same players at his disposal as the departed Chris Hughton.
And he had prised a spirited response out of them in the 3-2 home defeat by Liverpool. Today, however, and two goals either side of the break took any wind out of their sails and it was all-too much plain sailing.
As City’s stand-in boss went in search of a way – any way – to throw a spanner in the works of the Giggs party, so he again opted for change in that much-troubled central striker role.
Out went last week’s scorer Gary Hooper, in came Ricky van Wolfswinkel as Adams desperately sought some sort of lifeline to cling to.
Of equal note was the continuing absence of team skipper Sebastien Bassong; once again it was Michael Turner and club skipper Russell Martin who were left to hold the fort in front of John Ruddy.
As expected, Old Trafford rose to greet their new, temporary manager after this week’s dismissal of David Moyes. It was, of course, the last thing that the Canaries needed; the trips to the North-West are long and arduous enough without having to make up the numbers at someone else’s party.
Despite promises of a fast and furious start to the latest managerial reign at Old Trafford, it was all rather subdued from the home side.
As Adams himself is fast discovering, you are still left to work with the same players with the same failings. And by this late stage of the season, teams are where they are for a reason – and United look half-paced and shapeless. Certainly when compared to the title challengers now some 20-odd points distant.
But as events unfolded, even that was all-too good for the visitors.
Shinji Kagawa spurned an early chance before Norwich’s defensive frailties reared their ugly head again. Phil Jones’ cross was regulation; somehow is skipped through to the far post where Steven Whittaker’s clip on Danny Welbeck gave Rooney his moment from the penalty spot.
It was despatched with ease as the England striker continued to look the sharpest tool in the United box. A fact he repeated shortly after the restart with a skidding 25-yarder that pinged in off the base of Ruddy’s left-hand upright.
Whatever rescue plan Adams might have conjured up in the dressing room at half-time was out of the window as van Wolfswinkel got nothing out of either Vidic or Ferdinand. Not for the first time, the Dutchman looked a boy against two, Premier League men.
Two goals to the good, with Old Trafford in good voice, United were now wholly in command of the occasion and began to treat their visitors with footballing contempt. Ruddy, in particular, was going to have his hands full keeping the score to two as the trapdoor beckoned ever wider for the Norfolk side.
Van Wolfswinkel disappeared after 57 minutes; another afternoon to forget as Johan Elmander arrived seeking to ruffle a feather or two.
It mattered little. Ruddy palmed out another Rooney effort; the ball was duly recycled and Jones’ cross was slammed home by the newly-arrived Mata to end the contest.
He would add a second – United’s fourth – as they continued to tease and toy with Adams’ increasingly ragged troops. Elmander would at least offer one shot; but it was all-too little, too late.
Bradley Johnson would stretch David de Gea from distance; it was City’s second shot on target. Martin Olsson would see a deflected effort drop back down onto the top of the bar.
But in every reality Norwich were long gone; it was consolation-only stuff.
Arsenal at home with the full might of the Carrow Road crowd behind them now looks their only hope.