Norwich City's hopes of prising three more, big points out of Leicester City just ran out of steam at Carrow Road this afternoon as Leicester City clung on to a 0-0 draw.
Richard Stearman initially came closest to breaking the deadlock after the break as the Foxes' defender slashed substitute Jamie Cureton's whipped cross little more than a foot wide as the home side pressed for the winner that their rip-roaring first-half efforts deserved.
However, once again, City boss Glenn Roeder saw his side short-changed by the lack of a finish. They are now, in fairness, very hard to beat but without that final cutting edge, one point is proving scant return for their efforts.
Norwich's cause was not helped by some dire refereeing as Foxes keeper Ben Alnwick flattened Darel Russell in the 83rd minute after initiating a brwal with the same player before the break; nor by the sight of Gary Doherty angling an 85th minute header wide of a far upright.
Nor by Dion Dublin slamming a header against a post two minutes from time; Jamie Cureton slashing over moments earlier when 15-yards out and in the middle of the goal. The list went on and on…
Pre-match and it wasn't hard to spot the day's big talking point – Darren Huckerby disappearing without trace.
Well, not without all trace. The long-time City favourite made a brief appearance on the pitch beforehand to accept the PFA's Championship Player of the Month award for December – the irony of which wouldn't have been lost on the man himself if, as one story had it, he had simply been dropped from Roeder's starting 16.
The other version of events had the two-time City Player of the Year sidelined by a hip injury. Either way and his body language was not brilliant.
If it was, in part, Roeder's reaction to events at Gigg Lane, Bury, in midweek then Huckerby wasn't alone in feeling the manager's wrath for that embarrassing FA Cup third round exit to the League Two strugglers – Matty Pattison was on the bench as Chelsea starlet Ryan Bertrand made his first start on Huckerby's old 'beat' on the left-hand side of midfield, while Ryan Jarvis followed Huckerby out into the cold.
The one that escaped the trip to the North-West – Jon Ostemobor – made a welcome return at right-back; his sore Achilles presumeably rested. Ched Evans too returned having been ineligible for the Shakers replay.
As for the Foxes, they arrived in Norfolk in mid re-build with two of Ian Holloway's favoured Hungarians taking up station on either wing with the familiar Championship figure of Steve Howard slung in between. With just a point between the two teams before the start of today's game, to the winner would go some considerable psychological spoils in the fight for mid-table safety this spring
It took less than five minutes for Bertrand to start justifying Roeder's shake-up as the youngster swept a magnificent, curling cross to the far side of the Foxes' box where an unmarked Lee Croft swept the ball home first time with equal aplomb.
Alas, his celebrations were cut short by a linesman's flag for offside. A first look at the replay suggested the call was marginal. At best.
Moments later and as the Canaries began the contest with all the invention and edge they lacked at Gigg Lane, so the Leicester-born Dublin was slamming a glorious, 14-yard header against the bar from a Mark Fotheringham corner.
Two loud appeals for handball would follow; as would anoher magnificent cross into the Leicester box – this time it was the lively Croft with the delivery as he looked to return the favour to Bertrand. It needed a hasty punch from Foxes' No1 Alnwick to deny him. A smart free-kick move in the 18th minute would find Dublin inadvertantly blocking Evans' low drive.
It summed up a bright start that the words 'smart', 'free-kick' and 'move' would appear in the same sentence. Croft darted through on the 28th minute only for his low drive to be saved by Alnwick's spreading legs; the ball just wouldn't fall for the lurking Evans. Leicester were being battered with Evans and Croft, in particular, leading their respective markers a merry dance. Dublin busied himself by giving Evans – 19 years his junior – a lesson in leading-the-line play.
Once again, however, Roeder wasn't seeing the finish both the attitude and the approach deserved. David Marshall had barely touched the ball.
Eight minutes before the break and Fotheringham would ping a fine, 30-yard left-foot volley just wide after Croft and Otsemobor had worked that right flank to their advantage.
If the game had a little edge before, it was positively brimming over with it in the 41st minute as Russell and Foxes keeper rolled around in the six-yard box together. Russell had arrived a tad late as the ball span free; Alnwick then dug a clear elbow into the City midfielder's back before all but jumping on him. It was pretty much red card territory; but with the game slipping out of Tony Bates' hands, he opted for a yellow apiece. In the 'afters' both Fotheringham and James Wesolowski would follow.
Roeder and Holloway would exchange views on the touchline; both would agree that the referee was having a mare.
Holloway clearly also felt that action was needed to drag his side into the game – time to give his veteran marksman Barry Hayles, fresh from joining him in the East Midlands from Home Park, a 45-minute run-out as one of the Hungarians disappeared; Iain Hume would head out to the right wing.
It did little to immediately alter the balance of play as Dublin side-footed a 10-yard effort that Alnwick pushed away to his left. Holloway responded by putting James Chambers on Croft-watch. Again with no obvious change in Leicester's fortunes. That said, some of the first-half zip and pace was ebbing from Norwich's play as the hour mark came and went.
Dublin flicked Evans in briefly through the inside right channel only for the teenager to snatch at the chance and blaze over. The big question was whether or not the game had one, final sting in its tail. Or whether, minus Huckerby, Norwich would miss the man who, for the last four years, had picked many a-pocket in the Canary cause.
In the meantime, Hayles would hit the base of Marshall's left-hand post as the Foxes threatened to do just that.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Camara, Shackell, Doherty; Croft, Fotheringham, Russell, Bertrand; Dublin, Evans (Cureton, 75 mins). Subs (not used): Gilks, Pattison, Spillane, Martin.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Alnwick; N'Gotty, McAuley, Stearman, Mattock (Chambers, 54 mins); Wesolowski, Oakley, Bori, Laczko (Hayles, 45 mins); Howard, Hume. Subs (not used): Henderson, Fryatt, King.
Man of the Match: Lee Croft.