City boss Glenn Roeder was tonight clinging grimly onto an “excellent” Canary performance as the Norfolk side teetered ever nearer the brink of the Championship relegation zone.
Only goal difference keeps them out of the bottom three after this afternoon's 1-0 away defeat at Sheffield United. Southampton's 1-0 away win at Barnsley put the rea cat among the pigeons as Nottingham Forest's revival continued with their 2-0 away win at a hapless Charlton.
The Addicks look the real lost cause – but Norwich aren't that far behind them. They can't win to save their lives away from home and any repeats of the Carrow Road fiasco against Forest and City will be falling headling through the trap-door.
As ever, today's defeat at Bramall Lane came with the usual variety of hard luck stories – Wes Hoolahan would hit the woodwork before the break; Arturo Lupoli after it.
But once Darius Henderson had guided an all-too easy header home in the 17th minute, so the Canaries were always favourites to come away with nul points for their away-day travels.
The sight of Antoine Sibierski being stretchered off deep in the second-half merely ensured that the gang was all there as far as hard luck stories were concerned.
Even then, Roeder did little to win over an increasingly furious City support as Carl Cort remained on the sidelines; Sibierski's replacement being David Bell as the City boss opted to try and unpick the Blades with Messrs Hoolahan and Lupoli – Gary Doherty would find himself thrown up front in the game's dying moments as Norwich had little ption but to go high and hopeful.
“The performance was excellent considering this club [Sheffield United] will probably be promoted back to the Premiership this year,” said the embattled City chief, an argument that is unlikely to cut too much ice with his messageboard critics tonight.
You can afford to lose narrowly away to team like United if you are keeping yourself afloat points and places-wise by beating Nottingham Forest at home. When you're not, that's when the alarm bells really start to ring. Nine defeats out of the last ten on your travels means that City aren't even nicking the odd away point.
Results-wise, they're being battered.
“To come here and match them all the way – and at times be the better side – makes it that more aglling, yet again, to have taken no points from the game.”
That's the other charge that will be laid against his door tonight – that the script is always the same. Yes, hitting the woodwork is unlucky – but the counter argument is that when such chances present themselves, you shouldn't be hitting the post or flicking the bar. You should be scoring.
Hoolahan for all his bright and inventive play has yet to score a goal for his new employers. And when he occupies such a forward role, that's not big or clever. That's courting disaster.
Sometimes needs must; that you can be guilty of playing too much football. It was, by Roeder's own admission, the way that Derby dug themselves out of a hole earlier this season – by going more direct, playing it simple. Not pretty, but effective.
The Canary manager, however, insists Norwich simply don't have the personnel at the club to change their game; not that he appeared in much mood for a change.
“We haven't got the type of player where you can just launch balls in behind,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“Turn them round I think the saying is and chase after the ball like headless chickens – we can't do that. And we won't do that. I wouldn't want the team to do that and, as I say, we haven't got the type of players who would do that in any case.”
One who might was back scoring goals for Reading last night; if someone was to go more direct, Cort would at least add some welcome height. If fit, of course.
“We have to play the ball early and with quality into our forward players or spread it out early to our wide players and play from there,” added the City chief, delighted in the way in which his players stood up to the physical challenge the Blades offered.
“They're a reasonably physical side and teams come here and at times get bullied – and they didn't do that today. Everyone stood up and was counted. They proved that they can, if you want, trade punch-for punch.
“It was just a shame that having hit the woodwork a number of times, we didn't get the point that we deserved.”
Cort, he said, didn't come into his thinking. Even if he came into everyone else's.
“I wasn't particularly tempted, I have to say,” said the City chief. “I wanted us – as the game was stretching in that later period – to keep the ball on the floor.
“And if you'd have put Carl on I think it would have been too easy just to start knocking long balls up to Carl. And he would have been palying against two central defenders that were very strong in the air.
“I felt we had to try and keep the ball on the floor – and that was the reason that Belly [David Bell] came on rather than Carl.”
As Doherty found himself slung up front in the game's dying minutes – presumeably to fulfil just such a role – Roeder's tactcial thinking will again be dissected and debated long into the night.
“Overall it worked very well,” claimed Roeder, as Hoolahan stepped inside and played off Lupoli. “We retained possession, kept the ball well and had chances when I was forced to make that change.”
Don't take chances, don't win matches. That's the issue
For the bottom line to all such debates is very simple.
Score a goal, nick a point and you've got it right; miss chances, lose another away game – all with another obvious alternative sat there on the bench – and you've got it wrong.