The Canaries found the harsh realities of Premiership life slapping them in the face this afternoon as they slipped to a 1-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion.
Or, to be strictly accurate, elbowing them sharply in the face.
One, fatal slip of concentration from Ritchie de Laet cost them so dear as Peter Odemwingie bagged the game’s only goal with less than three minutes on the clock.
For the next hour and a half Norwich shaded the possession and dominated the passion. And got nothing out of referee Mark Halsey all afternoon – including a big elbow from Gabriel Tamas into the face of substitute James Vaughan deep into injury time. And deep in the Baggies box, to boot.
Red card, penalty and at least a point on other days. And yet – when all the rightful fuss and furore subsides – Baggies keeper Ben Foster barely had a save to make.
At the other end, Declan Rudd saw his right upright shudder under a fearsome, first-half strike from Graham Dorrans, before marking his first Premiership start with a fabulous penalty save to deny Odemwingie a second.
In the end, however, it counted for little – other than the young man’s confidence. Norwich got mugged. Good and proper.
“I think it’s a penalty – no matter what way you look at it,” said Lambert, his frustration clearly evident afterwards. As was the extent of the damage to the luckless Vaughan from Tamas’ elbow.
“James is away to see the plastic surgeon at the minute – it’s a bad one. He’s got a nasty gash on his upper lip that will need some work on,” said the City chief, hoping that – for once – the big decisions at the big moments in a game would fall his way. “Unintentional,” was Roy Hodgson’s verdict afterwards.
City didn’t help their cause, however, with the opener – as Lambert was the first to admit.
“It was a poor goal to lose two minutes into the game, but the way that we played and the way that we came back into it, I can’t fault them.
“Listen there’s no magic formula – but if we keep playing the way that we are, we’ll be OK.”
If City wanted to get their afternoon off to the worst possible start then gifting Odemwingie his first goal on his first start of the season within the game’s first three minutes might be one way to do it.
Which they did. Nicky Shorey’s hopeful, diagonal ball that bounced onto the edge of the City box should have been meat and drink for the Belgian centre-half – there was a marginal case for Rudd to come and clear out ball, striker and defender en masse.
In the event, the Nigerian stepped in ahead of de Laet and stabbed the game’s opening goal beyond a horribly stranded City keeper. Not big, clever or what anyone would have ordered to help the 20-year-old’s self-belief on his big afternoon out.
City, in fairness, responded brightly enough. Andrew Surman found his way to the far by-line only for Foster to clear one-footed – to Grant Holt who could only dig an instant effort wide of the keeper’s right upright.
Marc Tierney’s run and cross deserved a better finish from Elliott Bennett as he swept the ball over from 12 yards out on the half-hour mark; Norwich were shading the contest, but – as ever – chances when made, needed to be taken.
Rudd, to his credit, stood up superbly in the 35th minute to deny Odemwingie as the Nigerian once again found himself in a dangerous space – this time behind de Laet’s left shoulder.
Six minutes from the break and Dorrans unleashed a fearsome, 25-yard drive that rattled Rudd’s right upright; Dorrans would eventually pick up the rebound and swirl another effort goalward which the City keeper spilled in front of a lurking Shane Long. Fortunately it all came too quickly for the ex-Reading striker and the ball was finally heaved clear.
In the midst of it all, Rudd appeared to tweak his knee. With no sub keeper on the bench, Lambert’s discomfort would have deepened as half-time neared.
Man of the Match Bradley Johnson continued to make a decent impression with a sweet strike on 55 minutes that flew just over. City were, finally, starting to go up through the gears and the crowd duly responded.
Without end product.
Hence a double switch in the 69th minute that saw Steve Morison and James Vaughan replace Holt and Martin; Wes Hoolahan had already replaced Andrew Surman as Lambert played every last card in his hand in a bid to avoid a third straight defeat.
That prospect looked dead and buried in the 75th minute when Steven Reid tumbled all-too easily in the City box with Morison at his back.
Penalty awarded, Rudd made a Premiership name for himself with a fantastic spot-kick save away to his right to deny Odemwingie his second goal of the game. Norwich breathed again; hope sprang eternal once more.
Crofts drilled one over; Morison had the better chance – heading wide from eight-yards out from an inviting Tierney cross on 86 minutes.
But in the end there was no fairy-tale ending; just a nasty dollop of Premiership reality.