The Canaries will spend at least another week casting anxious glances over their shoulders as title-hopefuls West Bromwich Albion clung on to a 2-1 win at Carrow Road this afternoon.
And it was a case of clung on. For despite nicking into the lead after just 90 seconds through Robert Koren, for long periods of the game the Baggies found themselves pinned in their own half as the Canaries delivered a strong and committed performance – big on chances, fatally short on finishes.
Darren Huckerby slashed a first-half volley wide; Jamie Cureton drove over; Ched Evans headed straight at the keeper – the list would go on and on as Dean Kiely, bar Evans' 74th minute penalty, barely had a save of note to make.
Before then Zoltan Gera had found himself with one half-chance and taken it – a sweeping 25-yard volley from a Jason Shackell header that showed Norwich how. That was the difference – finding the finish when it mattered.
What matters now is that the Canaries take this level of performance into next weekend's home clash with Queen's Park Rangers – and find the finish that ends all these relegation matters.
The big question before the game was answered as the two teams lined up for kick-off – just where would 18-year-old Gibbs figure in Roeder's midfield thinking.
The answer was away on the left with Darren Huckerby handed his unfavoured gig on the right. Matty Pattison, therefore, added the bite and the legs alongside returning skipper Mark Fotheringham.
All of which paled into insignificance after 90 seconds of the contest as the Baggies stole into a highly controversial lead.
Kevin Phillips burst free through the inside-left channel as Gary Doherty trailed. His low shot was saved – initially one-handed – by Canary keeper David Marshall. Jason Shackell helped mop up the loose ball back into both Marshall's hands until a lurking Roman Bednar rolled on top of the City No1 and out popped the ball. To a free and unmarked Robert Koren who had all the time and space he ever needed to slot the ball home.
Marshall's furious protests went wholly unanswered by referee Iain Williamson as the visitors put one large, Black Country hand on an automatic ticket to the Premiership. Certainly any hope that the Baggies' limbs might be wearying as they embarked on their sixth game in 18, sapping days looked mis-placed as they set about their hosts with gusto – Zoltan Gera almost dinking his way through moments later only for Marshall and Pattison to finally mop up the danger.
The home faithful's mood was not helped by another slap in the face from the officials as Greening headed City's first corner over. Goal-kick, said the referee. 'Yon don't know what you're doing…' roared the Barclay, as an always difficult afternoon continued to get off to a thoroughly frustrating start. Williamson's name wasn't right down there with that of Andy D'Urso, but he was giving it a go….
The assistant got in on the act in the 13th minute as he ruled a superb Darren Huckerby finish offside as he latched onto a neat Fotheringham flick before sweeping a fine, 22-yard effort over Dean Kiely's head and into the far corner. Catch the replay and the assistant had a point. By no more than a foot.
Still, at least Norwich were starting to click into gear; Gibbs would arrive on cue at the far post three minutes later only to lift his header well over. Fotheringham would deliver a peach of a ball to Huckerby's feet in the 19th minute only for his subsequent cross to just elude three yellow shirts. Cureton, wriggling free down the inside left channel, would see first Neil Clement and then Leon Barnett, block two, right-foot drives in quick succession.
Kiely, however, had yet to make a save; Shackell almost drifted the perfect, teasing cross into Cureton's unmarked path only for Barnett's last-ditch header to clear. But the point still stood – Norwich weren't working the keeper. Pattison side-footed over from 25 yards in the 26th minute as Kiely watched in comfort. West Brom weren't quite on a wobble; they were, however, being made to work.
As was Marshall by a sharp Bednar effort as Koren and Gera picked their passes en route to unpicking Norwich. The visitors, you sensed, had another goal in them as Norwich for all their possession struggled to see the whites of Kiely's eyes.
Five minutes before the break and the referee was again causing City problems as he adjudged that Gary Doherty handled the ball a yard outside the box; again, replay suggested otherwise. Either way and Phillips low drive from the resulting free-kick found the Canary keeper making another sharp save low to his right.
A minute before the break and the Canaries almost prised their way beyond Kiely. Mo Camara siezed on a poor throw out and threaded Gibbs in. Having reached the by-line, his low pull-back brought a huge demand for hand-ball against the sliding Hoefkens. 'Handed' the ball back, the teenager then digged a hanging cross away to the far post where Huckerby coiled himself up for the volley. The connection was clean enough – as the ball flew the wrong side of the post as Paul Robinson threw himself head-long in Huckerby's direction.
Seconds later and the half-time whistle went; as Camara and Greening exchanged views on the opening 45 en route to the tunnel, so the home crowd vented their spleen in the referee's direction. Life wasn't getting any easier.
Come the re-start and Cureton and Gibbs both dug little shots goalward as Roeder watched intently from the touchline. A minute later and Cureton stole in on the end of a deep Marshall punt. In the wrong side of Barnett, the Canary striker dropped his half-volley onto the roof of the net as another half-decent chance came and went.
The Baggies' response was of the highest drama as Gera smashed a dipping 25-yarder smack onto the crossbar. The ball fell down behind Marshall and as James Morrison darted in for the rebound, the Canary keeper needed to swiftly gather his thoughts and his feet to bravely gather the ball.
It was a rare moment of Baggies danger as first Evans and then Cureton found the space to send headers goalward; neither would offer either the pace or the direction to unduly trouble Kiely. Huckerby would dig a low cross through the visitors' six-yard box; Hoefkens would hastily clear. Cureton would work his way free down the inside right channel and slash over from 16-yards.
Roeder and Clark would both throw their hands up in despair as Norwich pressed and pressed. And failed and failed to make Kiely work. They were, at least, rattling the title hopeful's cage. Time to see if Dion Dublin could rip that cage door open as Cureton made way just after the hour mark.
Mowbray's response was swift and telling – he whipped both his strikers off to replace them with two more, Luke Moore and Ishmael Miller. For now it did little to alter the balance of play as Huckerby's first cross flashed in front of Dublin's forehead; his second was intercepted just as Evans prepared to let rip.
It all came back to haunt the Canaries in no uncertain fashion in the 71st minute as Shackell's clearing header fell to Gera. One look up and from 22-yards he smashed his volley back beyond Marshall and into the bottom right-hand corner.
West Brom's wild celebrations lasted less than two minutes as Fotheringham's deep cross found Dublin rising with Barnett. The third big appeal for handball finally brought its reward – only, however, after the assistant referee had flagged long and hard. Thus convinced, referee Williamson pointed to the spot; up stepped Evans and with very little fuss slammed the ball inside Kiely's left-hand post to leave everyone pinned to the edge of their seats for the last 15 minutes.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Mar
shall; Otsemobor, Camara (Russell, 87 mins), Shackell, Doherty; Gibbs (Chadwick, 75 mins), Pattison, Fotheringham, Huckerby; Evans, Cureton (Dublin, 63 mins). Subs (not used): Velasco, Pearce.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kiely; Hoefkens, Robinson (Albrechtsen, 69 mins), Barnett, Clement; Koren, Greening, Morrison, Gera; Phillips (Moore, 65 mins), Bednar (Miller, 65 mins). Subs (not used): Danek, Brunt.
Man of the Match: Mark Fotheringham.