City's chronic short-comings in the final third of the pitch condemned Glenn Roeder's men to a first round Carling Cup exit at MK Dons this evening as 19-year-old Sam Baldock's first-half strike gave the League One outfit an all-too easy ticket to round two.
Darel Russell's 25-yard drive against a post apart, the second-half made for pretty grisly viewing for the 2,100 travelling Norwich supporters as the Canaries encamped themselves in the Dons half without ever having either the wit or the strength to prise Roberto di Matteo's outfit open.
Jamie Cureton's arrival for the struggling Omar Koroma merely replaced like-for-like striker-wise when the situation increasingly demanded something more robust forward-wise.
'OJ' had enjoyed Norwich's two best chances before the break – a fierce header over and a smothered shot when threaded clean through by the inventive Wes Hoolahan.
Substitute Lee Croft arrived on cue at the far post four minutes before the end, only for his 'shot' to end up looking more like a back pass. The fact that the Canary faithful were raising a certain D Huckerby's name into the night sky made their feelings and frustrations plain as the Canaries struggled to get a shot within ten yards of the target – let alone force Willy Gueret into anything resembling a save.
With the Dons having transported all the 'atmosphere' of their former home at that National Hockey Stadium, there was a real pre-season feel to events at the stadium:mk. In fairness to the 2,100 travelling City fans they did their best to make it sound like home.
As at the Ricoh, Wes Hoolahan was soon onto the ball and into the action with the Canaries forcing the game's first corner within the first five minutes.
Mark Fotheringham's delivery hung teasingly over the penalty spot for Koroma to leap athletically and thump a decent header just over Willy Gueret's bar. Two minutes later and it was Hoolahan teeing up Russell for a low drive; it was blocked, as was Arturo Lupoli's effort through the inside left channel seconds later.
Three corners in as many opening minutes suggested that they were the first out of the traps; seemingly determined not to make a late night of it Spotland-style. Stress seemingly.
For not that it was all one-way traffic. Aaron Wilbraham squeezed his way into space some 15-yards out only to lift his shot way over.
Hoolahan's early involvement continued with a decent, swirling drive in the 13th minute that forced Gueret into a comfortable enough save to his right. In the build-up, Lupoli had produced a smart, little back-heel to keep Hoolahan in forward momentum.
Barely ever to be seen in his nominal left-wing berth, there was little doubt as to who was pulling virtually every Norwich string as he tricked and teased his way around the centre circle.
At the other end – bar one, big challenge from Jason Shackell – Norwich's new-look defence were enjoying a relatively comfortable night at the office. David Marshall had yet to make a save as the contest meandered over the 20-minute mark. And, for now, it was a meander as Norwich's early invention started to wane.
It returned just after the half-hour as Hoolahan slipped a glorious ball into Koroma's feet in the inside right channel. Free to turn and motor into the Dons box, the 18-year-old's first touch might have been a mite heavy – either way, Gueret was alive to the danger and bravely smothered the shot away. The watching Pompey No2 Tony Adams would have taken note; 'Must do better…' he would have written.
It was a chance Norwich would come to rue in the 34th minute as striker Baldock – having just drilled one wide from the opposite side of the City box – found himself unmarked in the inside left channel as Andrews angled ball fell perfectly in his path. Like Gueret before him, Marshall raced out from goal well enough; unlike Koroma, the 19-year-old Baldock then delivered with a deft little lob over the keeper and on into an empty net.
City's problems were mounting, Roeder's anger was rising as the Dons turned the screw further and forced three corners in quick succession.
The ball would finally squirm over the City goal-line and the pressure would ease. But after starting the contest by far the brighter of the two sides, come the interval and Norwich were looking distinctly ill-at-ease as their control of both the night and the ball began to loosen.
If Roeder was serious about making progress in this season's competition, 'words' would be needed at the break; action, not words would be needed thereafter.
First blood of the second period belonged to the Dons as goal-scorer Baldock was again threaded into the City box; this time Shackell had the answer with an excellent, sliding tackle to whip the ball off the teenager's toes.
He would lift an eight-yarder just over after an excellent step-over dummy from his strike partner Wilbraham. For now, at least, Marshall's hopes of an early night look like being realised.
At least at the Ricoh, the Canaries got beyond the back-line; they saw the whites of the keeper's eyes. Tonight and Gueret was hardly having to work. Koroma found a yard of space on the right-hand edge of the penalty area; his final shot, however, squirmed horribly wide of the target. He would have the ball in the back of the net moments later – the whistle having long blown for offside.
The arrival of Messrs Croft and Cureton just before the hour-mark had an instant effect – Croft's surging run gave Russell the chance to look up from 25-yards out and drive a rising shot straight against the keeper's left-hand upright. It gave the travelling City support – gathered away behind that goal – something to cling to as they started to contemplate yet another early cup exit.
Camped increasingly in the Dons' half, the League One new-boys were proving stubborn hosts and minus a battering ram of the big man variety City's football was all-too often going from side-to-side; all-too rarely going into the danger zone.
Matty Pattison's arrival 20 minutes from time found Russell returning to the centre-forward role he enjoyed in the home clash with Colchester United; whether it would have the same, dramatic effect was another matter.
As the last ten minutes loomed, Norwich's touch and confidence appeared to be deserting them. Caught offside all-too often, Gueret had barely had a save to make after the break. Russell's lone drive against the post was about as good as it got.
And even that wasn't that great.
MK Dons (4-4-2): Gueret; Howell, Lewington, Stirling, Swailes (O'Hanlon, 65 mins); Andrews, Leven, Wright (Regan, 81 mins), Baldock; Wilbraham, Johnson (Sturm, 72 mins). Subs (not used): Abbey, O'Hanlon, Navarro, Gallen.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Omusuzi, Shackell, Drury; Russell, Clingan, Fotheringham, Hoolahan (Croft, 58 mins) ; Koroma (Cureton, 58 mins), Lupoli (Pattison, 69 mins). Subs (not used): Nelson, Archibald-Henville, Chadwick, Lathrope.
Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan.