A 25-yard hit-and-hope effort from substitute Scott Murray and a third from Lee Trundle deep into injury time condemned Norwich to a bitter 3-1 home defeat against newly-promoted Bristol City.
Darren Huckerby's first goal of the season eight minutes from the end had briefly given the Canaries hope of a priceless point, but three minutes later and Murray was taking aim from distance and – courtesy of both uprights – was grabbing his third goal of the season. On each occasion the Robins' midfielder had come on as a second-half substitute to score.
Trundle then had the 'What a load of rubbish…' boys in full cry as he dived in from the right, twisted Jason Shackell this way and that and calmly tucked the ball into the far corner.
It was, in short, a performance and a result that will have banged a large nail in Jim Duffy's hopes of securing the manager's job on a full-time basis. He had, at least, managed to end Norwich's wretched scoring record as Huckerby made full use of a dreadful error by right-back Bradley Orr by drilling his shot through the Robins keeper and levelling the contest after Martin McIndoe's 48th minute opener.
Otherwise all today's game will have demonstrated is just the mountain that any in-coming manager will be asked to climb as City's season continued to go down the nearest pan.
As Duffy prepared to make his own managerial debut at Carrow Road this afternoon, so he wasted no time in slinging new-boy John Hartson straight into the mix.
And with David Strihavka preferred alongside him to both Jamie Cureton and Chris Martin, so Duffy went very big up front. How mobile he went would be for the next 90 minutes to decide. The big disappointment came in the fact that there was no sign of Chelsea 20-year-old Jimmy Smith after his run out for the Ressies on Monday night. In his absence, Darel Russell and Rossi Jarvis would continue to hold the fort.
Darren Huckerby was handed the right-wing gig as Simon Lappin got the nod on the left. Lee Croft – man of the match for many at Loftus Road – was back on the bench.
As for Bristol City, fair play to the Championship new-boys for introducing a nice touch – that after their traditional pre-match huddle complete with the diminutive figure of boss Gary Johnson in the middle, they to a man walked to the away section to salute their travelling supporters. Before a ball was even kicked. There's a lesson to be had.
In fairness to Hartson, the 32-year-old Welsh international almost made an extraordinary start to his on-loan Canary career when – with little more than two minutes on the clock – he seized on a loose ball after neat work between Strihavka and Jarvis, stepped away from a diving centre-back and drilled a low, 14-yard shot to Adriano Basso's right which the keeper could only push away for a corner.
Two minutes later and as Huckerby surged goalward from away on the right, Hartson forced Basso into a similar, one-handed save. He wasn't finished.
From the resulting corner, Hartson muscled his way to the ball and flashed a thumping header inches beyond the left-hand post. A minute later and it was was his XXL shirt that was chesting down the perfect tee-up for Adam Drury to blaze horribly over from 12-yards out. The City left-back would hold his head in his hands. It was a glorious chance.
But in the space of six minutes, Hartson had single-handedly proved more of an attacking threat than the whole Norwich side had done in virtually nine hours of Championship football. And Bristol City had yet to get into the Canary half.
Jame McAllister would change that in the 12th minute with an awkward, 25-yard dipper that new September Player of the Month David Marshall would save well to his left. He needed to. It was skipping inside his left upright. Russell would respond with a 20-yard effort that Basso again could only push out wide.
Hartson, the nearest City player, was slow to respond and the free ball was cleared. Get the ball to within a three-yard circle of him and the there was a great player still lurking there. He wasn't, however, about to chase anything of the lost cause variety.
Early storm over, the game took a five-minute time out for lengthy treatment on a Drury knee knock while Robins skipper Louis Carey had a Butcher-like head bandage applied. Within two minutes and it was clear that Drury was in no position to run it off. On came Michael Spillane into centre defence as Ian Murray was thrown into his least favourite position of left-back.
Given that Huckerby was away on the right and there was the luckless Croft sat on the bench, there were other options. Perhaps Duffy valued Lappin's attacking efforts too highly to withdraw him back to left-back.
Tactical re-shuffles or not, as the end of the first-half approached and Norwich had slipped back into their angst-ridden shells. Hartson would miscue a 39th minute header wide from another deep Lappin delivery as his movement began to dry up; Russell tried to squeeze his way through; that was about it. Ten hours without a goal came and went. A new club record.
And Hartson was living up to everyone's expectations – both when he had the ball and, more alarmingly, when he didn't. Breath-taking for the first ten minutes, he looked out of breath for the next 35.
The second-half was barely three minutes old before Norwich's season took another turn for the worse. Winger Ivan Sproule decided to prove again that Murray struggles at left-back as he first held the ex-Rangers man off before then whipping in a wonderful right-wing cross where Michael McIndoe peeled off his marker and placed a fine header high and away to Marshall's left. Though the Canary keeper got a touch to it, there was too much of a thump on the header for Marshall to claw it out.
Tails up, the Robins were starting to fly as Sproule tucked into the hapless Murray with growing glee as the natives grew ever more restless. If today was ever designed to launch Duffy's assault on the manager's hot-seat then it was all going horribly wrong. Bristol were starting to walk it as Norwich's decision-making process fell apart – Lappin blazing horribly over as Strihavka and Hartson queued up at the far post.
Hartson did at least connect with a 64th minute Lappin corner only for Liam Fontaine to clear. But the ball had to find Hartson; he was not about to find the ball.
Four minutes later and Murray was put out of his misery as Croft arrived on the right; Huckerby heading left; Lappin returning to full-back. The mutterings grew louder as Duffy did what the Barclay would have done the moment Drury was injured. Croft merely hammered home that point by smashing a superb cross straight through the Bristol box with virtually his first touch.
Hartson continued to offer Norwich's lone goal threat – as and when the ball ever reached him. A neat little Russell header found him in the 73rd minute; his crisp, 10-yard shot fell straight into Basso's arms.
Two minutes later and he met another Lappin corner and watched as his 76th minute header floated a foot or so wide. A minute later and his game was over as Martin arrived – Hartson leaving to a warm round of applause. He had barely moved all game and yet had produced virtually every attacking moment of any note. Work that one out.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Drury (Spillane, 29 mins), Shackell, Murray (Croft, 68 mins); Huckerby, Russell, Jarvis, Lappin; Strihavka, Hartson (Martin, 78 mins). Subs (not used): Gilks, Cureton, Martin.
Bristol City (4-4-2): Basso; Orr, McAllister, Fontaine, Carey; McIndoe, Elliott, Johnson, Sproule (Murray, 81 mins); Noble, Byfield (Trundle, 68 mins). Subs (not used): Henderson, McCombe, Skuse.
Man of the Match: John Hartson.
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