Glenn Roeder's best-laid plans ended in disappoinment at the Ricoh this afternoon as the Canaries opened their Championship campaign with an ill-deserved 2-0 defeat by Coventry City.
Elliott Ward's 47th minute penalty was the host's first real shot on target of any note; Leon McKenzie's killer second five minutes from the end was almost their second.
In between, Arturo Lupoli took a touch when he should have shot; headed over from six yards with goal gaping; Omar Koroma saw Keiren Westwood save when clean through; Wes Hoolahan had a huge penalty appeal waved away.
In the end, however, Coventry rode their luck and took their two chances leaving the 2,400 travelling Canary supporters to take heart from a command performance by John Kennedy at the heart of the Norwich rearguard and passages of bright, one-touch inter-play. That simply lacked a finish – a phrase that will come to be carved on the club's grave.
As the two teams run out for the start of the 2008-2009 season, you had to pinch yourself that this was the middle of August. A dank, autumnal drizzle had descended on the Midlands as Roeder's re-built City side ran out to do battle with hosts Coventry City.
In fairness, it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the visiting Norwich fans; hope springing eternal following Roeder's furious summer on the transfer merry-go-round.
For within that Norwich side were six players making their full, competitive debuts for their new employers – in no particular order Elliott Omosuzi, Kennedy, Dejan Stefanovic, Sammy Clingan, Lupoli and Hoolahan.
Another two waited for their chance on the bench – 'OJ' Koroma and sub keeper Stuart Nelson.
All of which, of course, begged the $64 million question to City's hopes this season: just how long would it take this new-look Norwich side to 'bed'? It would be a fairly remarkable piece of management if all clicked into gear on the first afternoon of the season.
The game's opening moments boded well enough as Omosuzi settled easily into his new surroundings and with the 'veteran' Lee Croft forced the game's first corner in the fourth minute; at the other end, Kennedy twice rose highest to thump big headers away.
The one fear came down the right in front of stand-in left-back Jason Shackell where Sky Blues' Player of the Season Jay Tabb lurked menacingly.
The first five minutes also saw a first flash from Lupoli; a neat side-step, an injection of pace and a touch into Jamie Cureton's path. Big drive hastily blocked. Two minutes later and the Italian was skipping away from Stephen Wright all-too easily. His low cross would just zip away from Croft on the far post. In between and Hoolahan, too, was starting to find his passing range. Stefanovic was in cruise control.
With the game settling down into a nice, even tempo, it was Kennedy who suddenly upped the attention with an over-head kick to meet a 23rd minute corner from Mark Fotheringham. With a clean contact gained, the ball reared up and through the Coventry six-yard box and just away from a prowling Cureton. Clingan would smash a 25-yard drive wide three minutes later as the Canaries continued to prosper.
Lupoli drilled a half-decent effort straight at Keiren Westwood moments later. So far, so good. David Marshall had yet to make a save.
Norwich's reward almost came in the 38th minute as Hoolahan threaded Cureton in through the inside-left channel. As Westwood braced himself for the shot, so Elliott Ward arrived in the nick of time with a fabulous, covering tackle.
If that tackle was one turning point, another arrived 30 seconds later as Kennedy's back header fell short of Stefanovic and the ever-alert Tabb nipped in – clear through on goal. Or would have done had Stefanovic not whipped away a trailing leg and sent him tumbling. 'Red!' was the instant reaction; 'Yellow!' went the ref and Norwich breathed again once Freddy Eastwood's subsequent free-kick had slammed into a solid Canary wall.
In the end, City would save their best moment of the first period to the very last as Cureton and Hoolahan would slip Lupoli in, free, through the inside-left channel. With angle and time in his favour, the Italian opted to take a touch first. Bang, the door slammed shut; the chance went. As the interval beckoned you could only wonder whether 'OJ' might have accepted the first invitation.
It was a moment that the Canaries came to rue two minutes after the re-start as Clingan's innocuous-looking clip on Sky Blues skipper Scott Dann found referee Webster pointing to the penalty spot. Without a replay it was hard to judge; it was hardly of the scything tackle variety; nor unduly late; just unlucky.
Either way, Ward wasn't about to look this particular gift-horse in the mouth and as he smashed his spot-kick high, up and away from a diving Marshall, so Norwich's best efforts were going unrewarded.
The response was bright enough as Cureton broke and fed Croft. His far post cross hung deliciously in the air and, indeed, looked for all the world to have tempted Wright into a hand-ball as Westwood came and flapped. As the ball dropped again, Lupoli had an open goal at his mercy. As his free header arced up and onto the roof of the net, Roeder was busily kicking a water bottle down the touchline – his frustrations becoming all too evident.
No surprise, therefore, to see 'OJ' being given his last instructions as Master Koroma made his Championship entrance in the 63rd minute. Within 30 seconds he was onto the end of a Cureton cross and heading the ball back for Clingan to blast straight at Ward. There was plenty of life left yet.
By rights City should have levelled in the 69th minute as Marshall's quick punt forward fell over Ward's head and enabled Koroma to burst through. Goal looming large in front of him, his rising shot was just too close to the advancing Westwood and he managed to somehow palm the ball away and safe as the 18-year-old's chance of a dream start came and went.
The Canaries' growing sense of injustice wasn't helped by a 77th minute clip on Hoolahan by Danny Fox deep in the Sky Blues box that went unpunished; in the ensuing chaos Croft drove the ball up and beneath the Coventry bar only for Westwood to palm, one-handed, over.
Roeder's last card arrived ten minutes from time with Russell's arrival for Clingan; a touch of the Colchester magic would be just what the doctor ordered as the game began to slip away from the visitors.
Instead, Coventry wrapped the game up with a second. Clinton Morrison reached the ball away on the far post; his delicate little chip back looked to be heading over. Instead it fell back off the bar and on into the path of second-half substitute McKenzie who, from little more than four yards out, had the easiest of chances to squeeze the ball home inside Marshall's left-hand upright.
Coventry City (4-4-2): Westwood; Wright, Ward, Dann, Fox; Gray (McKenzie, 70 mins), Gunnarsson, Beuzelin, Tabb (Simpson, 45 mins); Morrison, Eastwood (Thornton, 83 mins). Subs (not used): Ireland, Turner.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Omusuzi, Kennedy, Stefanovic, Shackell; Croft, Clingan (Russell, 80 mins), Fotheringham, Hoolahan; Cureton, Lupoli (Koroma, 63 mins). Subs (not used): Nelson, Drury, Pattison.
Man of the Match: John Kennedy.
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