At a little before twenty to ten last night, City boss Peter Grant could have been forgiven for feeling quietly pleased with himself.
With little more than five minutes left on the clock and the Canaries appeared to be clinging onto a point for their troubles at The Valley.
There had been the odd moment of alarm as Chris Iwelumo and Andy Reid slapped a big header and a curling free-kick against David Marshall's bar, but as Charlton pumped one, last hopeful ball into the space behind Gary Doherty so the City boss could scarcely imagine the horrors that were about to unfold.
For by the time that the fourth minute of added-on time had been played, the Canaries were two goals adrift and a man down – Doherty's tired stumble would bring substitute Izale McLeod to the floor for the first of Andy Reid's penalties; Julien Brellier would clip McLeod a yard outside the box for the second spot-kick three minutes later.
Moments later and Dion Dublin – thrown up front alongside 90th minute substitute Jamie Cureton in a last, desperate bid to salvage something out of the game – would chase the ball down towards the far corner flag.
Danny Mills would step into and across the 38-year-old's path; their shoulders would collide; Dublin's head would inevitably lower. A head butt, ruled Mr Singh. City's man of the match was off – and facing an automatic three-match ban for violent conduct.
“The player that was involved in it should have been off anyway,” said Grant afterwards, about to point a very large finger in Mills' direction.
Grant's one-time Carrow Road team-mate had been involved in an hour-long grudge match with Darren Huckerby that saw the City striker booked for a late tackle and Mills facing accusations of swinging an elbow in the former's direction.
To accuse Dublin of head-butting Mills as tempers flared at the death was, said Grant, wholly wide of the mark.
“If it was a head-butt, he'd still be lying there,” said a furious City boss, as contemplates life without Dublin for the trips to Wolves and Manchester City plus the live Sky clash against Sheffield Wednesday at Carrow Road the following weekend.
It was a moot point afterwards whether you were allowed to appeal against a straight red. The referee's insistence that it was for a head-butt reportedly after the event was nonsense – the two players were three foot apart with Darren Ambrose standing in between as the official reached for his red card.
Grant's anger was reserved more for what he saw as Mills' earlier indiscretion. “He should have been off prior to that with the Darren Huckerby situation.
“There was intent there – he swung his elbow at him,” claimed the City chief. “And he deserved to be off. And there's 20 minutes to go and the game could have been completely different.”
Mills, in fairness, is a past master at winding everyone up; he pushed Huckerby's buttons from the start; Addicks boss Alan Pardew admitted afterwards that he plays the game “on the line”.
Mills walked away from The Valley without a booking; Dublin is out for three games, Huckerby is one booking nearer a suspension; City have one more away defeat racked up against their name.
There was only one person enjoying the last laugh – and it wasn't Grant. Particularly after he'd made one of the bigger calls in his managerial career by dropping top scorer Jamie Cureton to the bench and leaving the goalless Chris Brown on his own up front.
To have walked away with a point – albeit via a largely chanceless 0-0 – would still have been seen as a major triumph; a manager vindicated by the final result. As it was, those last ten minutes of mayhem merely opened a fresh can of worms ahead of the trip to Wolves.
“Charlton are a very good side, they're putting us under the kosh and you're digging in there and thinking to yourself: 'If Mills goes then, with 20 minutes to go, we could go on and win the game…'
“And I've seen Mills swinging his elbow, I've got Cureton on the bench and that may have been an opportunity for us to win the game…”
Not that Grant was complaining about the penalties – once again, tired legs and tired minds underpinned Norwich's downfall.
“To lose the goal the way we did – it's just a kick up the pitch. It's the first time we've let it bounce and all of a sudden it's a penalty kick. And that's probably Doherty's first mistake – going to ground in the box.
“And then you lose that little bit of discipline. And it costs you the game. Losing Dublin leaves a sour taste in the mouth – especially when the boy that was involved shouldn't have been on the pitch.”
It wasn't a foul, was the simple answer. Study the replays and it is Mills who causes the first offence by stepping across the Canary skipper – at worst it is obstruction. At best, it's a Norwich free-kick.
“I know Dion Dublin – he's went with his shoulder and you know yourself, you do that and your head automatically goes forward. It's as plain as day that it's his shoulder that he's hit. And there's not a mark on Danny Mills.”
Grant was heartened by the way that his players dug in as Charlton moved menacingly forward for much of the game. “They have shown a resiliance, but we still don't show that quality on the ball – we've still got to get better on that.
“We never played that well when we had possession. We have to take more care in the middle of the pitch.”
As for Cureton's relegation to the bench that, Grant explained, was designed to give Huckerby greater support in midfield; that having only played 80 minutes of Championship action this summer, he needed the extra cover that Brellier offered defensively as opposed to the extra goal threat that Cureton might have delivered.
There is a bottom line here that Nigel Worthington dabbled with too; can you go to places like The Valley with a Huckerby and an Earnshaw in your side? Or in this case, a Huckerby and a Cureton? Big calls; big calls.
“I know it's a tough place to come – and I wanted Darren Huckerby playing in the game,” explained Grant, who started the night with the Canary favourite playing on the right of a five-man midfield.
“I wasn't going to play him on the left-hand side and when you play him up front in a 4-4-2, he always drifts out to the left-hand side anyway.
“And I just don't think his legs would have been so quick playing the two games in such quick succession, so I just felt I needed the extra body in there to help him,” added the Canary boss, who would still switch to a more orthodox 4-4-2 just before the break – with some effect too, as Huckerby himself forced Nicky Weaver into his one real save of the night.
“Darren needs the games as well; Jamie's one of these guys that can come on at any time in the game and get you a goal – he's capable of that.
“So it was a decision I had to make and after watching them in training yesterday I just felt that when you've got somebody like Huckerby in your team, he's always capable of doing something and, unfortunately, it was Jamie that missed out tonight.”
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