City Man of the Match Bradley Johnson tonight insisted that it was down to the players to now bounce back from today’s 1-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion and show their Premiership worth.
Peter Odemwingie’s all-too easy third minute opener condemned Paul Lambert’s men to their third, straight defeat following the Carling Cup exit to Milton Keynes Dons and the 3-1 dismissal by Chelsea – all unchartered water for a manager who had not lost two games on the spin in his two, previous seasons at Carrow Road.
Today’s reverse against a Baggies side without a point to their name before today’s live Sky clash was particularly hard to bear.
Come the final whistle there was a real sense that Norwich had been mugged – violently in the case of the luckless James Vaughan who had a date with a plastic surgeon this evening after a wayward, injury-time elbow from centre-half Gabriel Tamas ripped open the Canary substitute’s upper lip and provided the No1 talking point off a heated game.
But when the dust settles and tempers cool, the hard facts of the matter remain that one error cost Norwich dear. And that for all the possession and all the hard luck stories in the world, Baggies keeper Ben Foster barely had a save to make.
Next up is a trip to Bolton; fresh from their 5-0 humbling by a rampant Manchester United this weekend, life is unlikely to get any easier for the Canaries at the Reebok next Saturday.
“It’s down to us at the end of the day,” said Johnson afterwards, quizzed as to what boss Lambert had to say in the dressing room afterwards.
It would appear that the players held their hands up; well aware that one, single slip in concentration can cost you so, so dear as Odemwingie got the wrong side of Ritchie de Laet and stabbed the game’s only goal home beyond a stranded Declan Rudd.
And, in the end, that’s all the Baggies needed to see themselves home.
By fair means – or foul – they kept the Canaries away from Foster’s goal. Johnson actually came as close as anyone to a priceless leveller with a 25-yard drive that sizzled little more than a foot over the bar.
“He [Lambert] knows that we’ve made a mistake and we’ve got to come back from it.
“He can’t fault our effort or commitment. He knows that we’ve got that in abundance and we will work till the 90th minute as we just proved out there with the chances that we created. And he knows that it will come off for us sooner rather than later.
“And, hopefully, it will be sooner.”
The fear is, of course, that a monkey starts to grow on everyone’s back; that if Bolton (a) doesn’t yield that first win, then Sunderland (h) might need to.
After that, of course, it is Manchester United (a). Given their current form, few would fancy anyone’s chances at Old Trafford. Ask Arsenal.
“We’re not getting our heads down about it,” said Johnson, rightly awarded the Man of the Match bubbly after a strong and committed performance in the heart of that City midfield. Right now, he is looking the pick of Lambert’s summer arrivals. He also delivers a fine, dead-ball into the box which – on other days – will find an end product.
“It’s points lost at the end of the day, but we’ve got to back it up on Saturday away to Bolton. It’ll be another tough game but one we will go in looking to win.”
Lambert’s bold decision to go into the game without a second keeper sat on the bench looked to be playing with fire moments before the interval when 20-year-old Rudd appeared to pick up a knee knock as he scrambled the ball clear in a collision with Shane Long.
After the interval and the England Under-21 stopper had his moment in the Premiership spotlight when he palmed Odemwingie’s spot-kick away to his right – justice being done after Steven Reid bought a penalty off Steve Morison deep into the second-half.
It wasn’t the only big decision that referee Mark Halsey got wrong; as the TV replays will show come Tamas’ calculated elbow into Vaughan’s face late on.
Johnson, however, was just delighted that Rudd got that penalty save under his belt; confidence-wise it will give the Canary Youth product every hope that he can make a name for himself in the game.
“Yeh – it was very important,” said Johnson, as Rudd reaped his reward for years of hard graft at Colney. Those who witnessed his spot-kick heroics in various FA Youth Cup ties always half-fancied the youngster to do the job.
“Ever since I’ve been at the club, he’s been working hard; he’s got his chance today with John Ruddy being suspended and he’s done well,” added Johnson.