Norwich City’s season became all rather becalmed this evening after a single, albeit sublime strike from new Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse proved enough to condemn the Canaries to a 1-0 defeat at St James’ Park.
Paul Lambert’s men have now not won in five games; have taken just a point from the last available 12 – and that a scratchy one at home to the bottom club, Wigan.
Or so those with their glass half empty would say; for those whose Canary bubbly is ever half full, the Norfolk side remain – in every likelihood – a win and a draw away from securing their place back in the top flight again next season.
And Lambert is quite correct to maintain that, in so doing, it would surpass any of his previous managerial achievements at Carrow Road.
Right now, however, and City’s trajectory is all rather flat, as opposed to the rocket-like flight path of the last two-and-a-bit years.
Next Saturday and the Canaries stage a re-run of the Wigan game when they entertain bottom-of-the-table Wolves, who crashed to a 5-0 home defeat by Premier League champions Manchester United. Once again, the Faithful will head for Carrow Road with expectations high. And, once again, it could prove tough, tough going.
“Performance-wise, I thought we were excellent,” Lambert told the BBC afterwards, even if he was ‘disappointed’ to lose the contest – if for no other reason than to reward the 1,900 travelling Canary fans for their unwavering support on the road this season.
“I thought that was as well as we have played for a number of weeks,” he added. “The way we passed it was excellent and we had a number of chances to get the goal back.
“And the one moment where we switched off, we get punished. But I think that’s the nature of the league. But I wasn’t disappointed by the performance, that’s for sure.”
The winning goal – top corner, outside of the boot – was Cisse’s third in five games for the Magpies since his £9 million transfer window switch from Freiburg in Germany. Once again, money was talking as Newcastle’s pursuit of a ticket to Europe next season got back on track.
Tim Krul needed to be at the races after the break as the likes of Zak Whitbread and Anthony Pilkington threatened to pull the visitors level, but with John Ruddy likewise forced into some serious heroics so Norwich faced the long haul home with only a decent performance to their name.
“I think Zak probably headed it too well,” rued Lambert afterwards. “But saying that the keeper has still got to make the save that he’s done. I think he’s a top keeper.”
The fact that the home side couldn’t put the game to bed in front of an ever-expectant Toon Army helped Norwich’s cause as Newcastle retreated slightly into their shell after the interval, but in the end the £9 million man had done enough to win the day.
In many ways, Lambert has built a rod for his own back in the way that Norwich have not only stormed through both League One and the Championship at the first time of asking, but then gone on again to nick a point from such footballing citadels as Anfield and Goodison.
Hence the 1,900 would have travelled with hope in their heart; as will the 25,000-odd to Carrow Road next weekend.
“I think people can under-rate what Norwich have achieved over the last two seasons,” said Lambert. “And when you get it, the expectancy levels go higher and higher.
“But if we keep playing like that we’ll be right up there – that’s the pleasing thing. The players gave it everything they’ve got to try and win the game.”
Team-wise and the point to note was the decision to go with Steve Morison up top with new-boy Jonny Howson sitting just off the Welsh international; Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson were to be found on the bench.
Both Howson and Morison would have chances; as did Cisse to add to his 11th minute opener. But in this league, to coin a phrase, ‘You pays your money and takes your chances… ‘
And therein lies the big difference.