City boss Paul Lambert couldn’t hide his disappointment after the league leaders put in a strangely subdued performance in last night’s 2-1 defeat at Leyton Orient.
Norwich were well below-par all evening and the two first-half goals they gave away were particularly sloppy, with Sean Thornton enjoying the freedom of east London to boost the O’s hopes of beating the drop.
The first came after just three minutes and it was to set the tone for the whole evening, when a Ben Chorley free-kick found its way to Thornton in the box and the former Sunderland man had no problem slotting home past the returning Fraser Forster.
The Canaries rallied, backed by a vociferous 3,000 travelling army, and even though they were struggling to play the fluent football that has served them so well this season, Korey Smith levelled after 19 minutes when he fired home from the edge of the box after a Chris Martin cut back.
But with the City faithful believing that normal service would be resumed, the Norwich backline – who were shaky all evening – really let themselves down for Orient’s winner.
It was another free-kick that was to prove their downfall but quite why Thornton was given so much time and space was a mystery and he headed past the on-loan Forster on 29 to make it 2-1. That proved to be that.
“We just didn’t get going and never got on the front foot,” said the Canary chief, speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“We lost two really bad goals and the second one, with the game at 1-1, was poor. Both were through the centre of the pitch and it was very disappointing – really, really poor.
“That’s the worst we’ve been for a while and we have to pick ourselves up and go again. We’re still sitting at the top and we have to go again.”
Despite their status as league leaders, the Canaries have looked a little frenetic at times in recent weeks and particularly so yesterday evening. But Lambert was puzzled at the suggestion that his players are starting feeling the pressure, with promotion so close they can almost touch it.
“They shouldn’t be [under pressure] because we’ve still got a healthy lead. We’ve got two home games, as well as a hard game on Saturday [at Charlton], but there is no need to panic.”
At no point in the second period did Norwich really look like getting back on level terms but they did have two chances at the death, with Stephen Hughes shooting at the ‘keeper from close range and substitute Anthony McNamee hitting the post with a cross-cum-shot.
Lambert admitted, however, that City just didn’t penetrate in their normal manner. It was an off-night all round, but the Scot insists that they will bounce back at the Valley.
“There weren’t enough [chances for City] but I’m not going to keep going on about it. We never got going but we’ll pick ourselves up and come back strongly on Saturday.”
That clash in south east London takes on even greater significance and the table-toppers now ‘only’ hold a six-point lead over a resurgent Leeds, who won 3-1 at Carlisle last night.
But more worryingly perhaps, with Millwall getting a last-minute equaliser at Yeovil, the buffer to third and that dreaded play-off zone has been cut to seven points.
And Lambert’s men will need to put in a big performance on Saturday to silence any doubters that are coming to the fore. But when all is said in done, City should still have enough about them to wrap up promotion in the coming weeks.