A 74th minute leveller from second-half substitute Darel Russell spared Norwich the worst of the post-match inquests this afternoon – that said, a 1-1 draw complete with three more glaring misses against a less-than-convincing Blackpool side will have done little to ease the current anxious mood.
It may, at least, persuade City boss Glenn Roeder to reward Russell with a start away at Cardiff City next weekend. He has, after all, proved one of the few players to show any conviction in the final third of the pitch this summer.
The fact that the club need to ask Russell to roll back the years and return to the central striker's role of his youth does, however, signal the depth of City's desperation in that department after Roeder watched first Wes Hoolahan, Jamie Cureton and Arturo Lupoli all miss gilt-edged chances to put the game beyond Blackpool before the break.
Though David Marshall remained largely untroubled – bar Ben Burgess' 55th minute penalty – is not the point; the point lies at the opposite end of the pitch where Norwich should have had all three. That they ended up with a Russell-inspired one, tells its own story. The same one, in fairness.
As the Canaries ran out for the opening home game of the season this afternoon, so you couldn't help but feel that this was a bigger opening game than most.
One look at the forthcoming fixture list suggested the visit of Blackpool was one contest where the Canaries really, really did need to whack three big points above the door. And if it came with a fistful of chances and a hatful of goals, so much the better.
Certainly the welcome was warm enough from the home faithful. The fact that Roeder was, for the first time this season, able to pair his two Premiership starlets at full-back in the shape of Elliott Omozusi and the fit-again Ryan Bertrand added to the air of expectation.
There was also a bigger-than-average welcome afforded to Seasiders' old-boy Hoolahan. Even at this early stage of his Canary career, you sensed that our Wes had the chance to become a firm favourite. Particularly if he could pick a pocket or two against his old employers.
It took less than three minutes for Hoolahan to make a mark; slipping Cureton in free behind right-back Danny Coid. Having motored onto the corner of the Seasiders' box, his final, curling shot just sailed away beyond the far upright. If nothing it signalled a bright start.
Which should – again, should – have led to a fifth minute opener. Sammy Clingan's excellent through-ball sprang Matty Pattison free down the right; his eventual pull-back bobbled kindly to Cureton who swept a ten-yard effort slap against a crossbar. Out it fell to a waiting Hoolahan who, from no more than 12 yards out, snatched at his volley and saw the ball fly high and over an all-but empty net.
Some things had still to change. And worse would follow.
Blackpool had their moments. Adam Hammill pinged one five-yards wide from 25-yards as Lupoli almost slipped Cureton in at the near post only for Ian Evatt to hastily cover and clear. From the third quick corner that would follow, Kennedy would thump a header over.
Early flourishes over, as the 20-minute mark came and went so the game was slipping back into something of a pedestrian pattern as Norwich's final ball failed to hit the heights required, whilst Blackpool began to grow in terms of both confidence and possession.
If there was a moment that summed up City's current woes it arrived on the 30th minute. Pattison slipped a glorious, angled ball into Cureton's path.
Centre-half left at least five yards distant, the City striker burst into the Seasiders' penalty area with just the keeper to beat. For whatever reason – and mishit was the word in the Press box – Cureton's next touch span the ball away into the inside-left channel where Lupoli arrived. Unmarked. Eight yards out. With the whole width of the goal to aim at.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Cureton's decision making, Lupoli's 'finish' surpassed it as he sliced his shot wide of Paul Rachubka's right-upright – to the total disbelief of all concerned. In fairness to the home faithful, it prompted a swift chorus of 'On The Ball, City!'. Their patience would have been tested; if not their loyalty.
The uneasy mood prompted a short 'Huckerbe…' chorus; booed out, the repsonse was probably more telling given City's glaring 'big man' woes. 'Iwan,' they sang. 'Iwan…'
Pattison at least drilled a half-decent effort before the break; Kennedy's 30-yard ball to find him was straight out of the top drawer. Final touch of the half merely told the same story – Lupoli volleying a presentable half-chance straight into the keeper's waiting arms from ten yards out.
Come the second period and the Canaries continued to look the more accomplished side – right up until the moment that Omosuzi tripped Hammill in the 55th minute.
Kennedy was the one to put the chance in motion. Having stepped out of defence all-too neatly with the ball at his feet, he then got caught horribly in possession. Out of position as Blackpool broke, once the ball was fed into Hammill's path through the inside left channel so Omozusi always looked likely to finish second as he stretched for the ball. He did, Hammill tumbled and referee Friend had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
From where Ben Burgess had no hesitation in driving a fine spot-kick high and away from David Marshall as he dived away to his right.
Russell's arrival four minutes later was warmly welcomed – albeit with a hint of edge and anger. Everyone's worst fears were being realised. 'Delia get your cheque book out…' surfaced among the Barclay faithful as Russell found himself once again charged with that central striker's role.
Roeder's next move was greeted with equal urgent approval as Pattison made way for Lee Croft in the 67th minute; in between, Russell's frustrations had threatened to boil over as he and Rachubka exchanged glares as the former found himself booked for his troubles. It neatly summed up which way the afternoon was heading – towards some bitter recriminations and all manner of finger pointing as the strapping Seasiders pair of Rob Edwards and Ian Evatt all-too easily dealt with all that Cureton and Co could throw at them.
Neither the final delivery nor the simple belief were there… until City's stand-in striker proved his point.
Dejan Stefanovic managed to put a big head onto a Hoolahan corner; the ball looped up and over towards the near post where Russell had both the strength and purpose to nod the ball into the bottom corner from no more than five yards out.
Not for the first time this summer – be it either the friendly clash with Colchester United or against the MK Dons on Tuesday night – Russell was granting one or two of his team-mates a lesson in the art of finishing. And, above all, the strength of mind it invariably requires.
Thus inspired, Cureton forced a decent save out of Rachubka as he latched onto a little Fotheringham ball through. Whether it would all be too little too late would be for the final ten minutes to decide. By rights, the contest should have been over by the break.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Omozusi, Betrand, Kennedy, Stefanovic; Fotheringham, Clingan, Pattison (Croft, 67 mins), Hoolahan; Cureton (Koroma, 90 mins), Lupoli (Russell, 59 mins). Subs (not used): Nelson, Shackell.
Blackpool: (4-5-1): Rachubka; Coid (Rehman, 49 mins), Edarwds, Evatt, Camara; Hammill (Vaughan, 81 mins), Taylor-Fletcher, Wright, Fox, Jorgensen; Burgess. Subs (not used): Gilks, Broomes, Kabba.
Man of the Match: Darel Russell.
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