City favourite Darren Huckerby offered few excuses for yesterday's derby day non-event. Norwich were, he said, simply beaten by the better team.
Few, on the day, would argue.
There was an eight-minute spell between Ched Evans' bolt-from-the-blue and Alex Pearce's wretched own goal in which the Suffolk side looked all a bit bemused and bedraggled.
But once Danny Haynes started to find all the space he ever needed either in front or behind the luckless Ryan Bertrand, so Norwich swiftly slipped out of the contest.
Stephen Bywater barely had another save to make while his opposite number David Marshall pulled off at least four, big saves of note to keep the scoreline respectable – a full-length dive to divert a Tommy Miller free-kick wide, a push to right to deny a Jason de Vos header, a stand-up save to thwart Shefki Kuqi and a left-foot deflection to push a Pablo Counago effort wide after the break.
Given the number of times the ball scuttled beyond his far post in between, it was one of those games where the travelling faithful viewed events unfold through the fingers of their hands. On occasion, it was all too grisly to look.
“They could have won by more really – they were the better on the day,” said Huckerby afterwards, his 200th game in a Canary shirt not exactly panning out to be the party he planned.
Minus Mark Fotheringham's ability to spread the ball wide, the 32-year-old barely touched the ball in the first-half. He had one, little run just before the interval and a couple of trademark darts to the by-line after it. Otherwise, Huckerby's afternoon was more about keeping his temper under control as Town winger Alan Quinn niggled away at his patience.
“After a great start we got sloppy and let them back into the game – after that I think there was only going to be one winner.”
The result lifted the Suffolk side back nearer the play-off mix. They now face a huge game away at Wolves next weekend.
Back north of the border and the Canaries have two, huge home games in which to find the one, final win they probably need for survival. Heading for Hillsborough on the final day of the season with the job still only half-done is not a prospect anyone would relish. Hillsborough hasn't been the scene for the club's greatest triumphs in the past and no-one wants to tempt that kind of fate again.
That said, home to West Bromwich Albion as the Baggies gun for the title, isn't wholly ideal either.
“It was the perfect start – I thought we started really well,” mused Huckerby, after City followed last weekend's example and scored the game's opening goal within the first five minutes.
“First ten minutes I thought we were the stronger team; we were getting in behind them; then the own goal…. After that, they were the better team.”
Bristol City (a) it wasn't – even if the final scoreline would suggest otherwise.
“We've been playing quite well away from home, but after that [the own goal] we just seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot, really. They scored after that and then near the end they had quite a few chances. An awful lot of chances – it could have been a lot worse.
“There's no good way to look at it, really. They carved us open on quite a few occasions and but for Marshy [David Marshall] they would have won by more. He made a couple of good saves and obviously they missed a few chances. But we got quite sloppy.”
Huckerby never really got the service his game requires; the lack of Fotheringham's supply line was far from the only missing ingredient as the Canary skipper disappeared with a neck injury sustained in training on Saturday morning, but it didn't help.
“To be honest, I think I touched the ball three times in the first-half,” said Huckerby, given the expected warm welcome by the Town faithful – especially once his spat with Quinn developed.
“Fozzy [Fotheringham] does try and tend to get on the ball and bring other people into the game, but we didn't pass the ball as well as we can do today. Though for large parts of the game, we weren't really involved.”
At 2-1, there was always a sniff of an upset. Not that Norwich managed to ever, really get a shot-off on target – even in the game's dying moments.
“You never know – you keep going to the end and anything can drop for us, but it didn't seem to drop,” admitted Huckerby. “But then again, I didn't think that we deserved it today. They were the better team.”
Cue this weekend's home clash with the Baggies. Not quite do-or-die – yet. Not with five teams and four points still between them and the third and final relegation spot. Certainly there will be far more sleepless nights in Leicestershire between now and the end of the season as the Foxes look at that final game away at Stoke City with mounting alarm.
But that said, this season needs putting out of its many miseries. And sooner rather than later.
“It's definitely not over – of course not. But we've got two home games coming up now and we're looking to get good points out of them,” said Huckerby, with Dion Dublin's farewell party at home to QPR next on the agenda after West Brom.
“They may be tough, but we've definitely got two winnable games at home. And I'm confident that we'll stay up – no doubt. But we still definitely need a win so we'll be looking for that next week.”
As for Town, Huckerby wasn't about to put his house on them gracing the Premiership next year.
“They're a good team, but then there's a lot of good teams up there. They created a lot of chances today, but I don't see them as one of the teams going up, to be honest.
“They might get to the play-offs, but there are some really strong teams left in that top six.”
There is, however, a fair chance that a certain D Haynes might make the top flight before Town. Someone will take a chance on him. He has pace, power and while not always the finish to match, at 20 years old someone will convince themselves they can turn Norwich's regular tormentor-in-chief into the finished article.
“If he did better today, he could probably have scored four or five,” said Huckerby, with the one-time City Academy triallist missing at least a couple of guilt-edged chances. He has also had a fair claim for a penalty as Bertrand wrestled him to the floor in the midst of Kuqi's first-half chance.
“He's a good little player – although he's not little, he's a big lad. He played well today and caused us a lot of problems.”
Every time he plays anyone in a yellow shirt – be it at youth, reserve or first team level.
“He's a good player. He's still learning the game and if he carries on progressing the way he is, he'll be a decent player come two or three years down the line.”
Leave a Reply