City boss Paul Lambert insisted that his travelling Canary side deserved rather more for their efforts this weekend than a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Fulham.
Two goals within the space of the game’s opening 15 minutes set the Norfolk side an unenviable task of clawing their way back into the contest from 2-0 down. But despite Aaron Wilbraham’s first Premiership goal and a big, second-half shift from all concerned, the Canaries failed to prise a point out of their hosts and duly slipped back into the bottom half of the Premier League table.
“Lose two goals in the way that we did, it gives you an uphill battle,” admitted the Scot, with Clint Dempsey’s second-minute strike rocking Norwich back on their heels from almost the off before Damien Duff’s second some ten minutes later gave City the proverbial mountain to climb.
They remain relatively comfortably placed on 39 points. But with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all still to come, there will be the odd, nervous Canary fan who wishes to see this season safely put to bed – and sooner rather than later as the likes of Wigan, Bolton and QPR find a little momentum.
The interesting one now is Aston Villa for whom that final game of the season away at Norwich starts – even now – to look like a huge encounter.
To a man and a woman, the Canaries Yellow And Green Army will be hoping that City have nothing more than pride resting on that occasion.
That said, it ain’t over till its over – and this season has 101 twists and turns still to go.
“Both goals were very poor,” admitted Lambert, who handed Ryan Bennett his first team debut in a Grant Holt-less City side.
“Especially when you are away from home, you lose a goal in however many minutes [two] and then you lose another one – it gives you that mountain to climb,” Lambert told BBC Radio Norfolk.
“But the great thing is we never wilted, we kept going and got the goal back and in the second-half I thought there was only one time that were trying to go for it.”
Bennett’s debut, coupled with Holt’s one-match ban, obliged Lambert to make changes to the side that beat Wolves 2-1 last weekend; Kyle Naughton being restored at the back with Andrew Surman starting in midfield as Steve Morison stepped up as a lone centre-forward.
Two goals adrift at the interval and Lambert returned to 4-4-2 with Zak Whitbread making way for Simeon Jackson.
“I thought it was working attacking-wise – we had a lot of the ball and a lot of ball dominance,” Lambert said, as he ran the rule over a system and a shape that featured three centre-halves in Bennett, Whitbread and Elliott Ward with Russell Martin and Naughton in at wing-back.
It was going backwards where Lambert saw the problems; as did the 5,000-odd travelling City fans as Fulham established that 2-0 lead all-too easily.
“But I just thought that defensively we were lacking a little bit and that’s why we changed it. We went to a back for; put Simeon [Jackson] on and went for it, really.”
Norwich’s reward was Wilbraham’s deflected strike and the sight of Bennett [Ryan] growing in stature as the game progressed.
Neither, however, made for a point on their travels; three, successive away defeats will keep the punters shifting nervously in their seats until the maths finally works its survival magic.
“I’m delighted for Aaron [Wilbraham],” said Lambert. “He’s a top pro; a top pro. He gives you everything he’s got and is brilliant about the football club which is important. With Aaron what you see is what you get – and I’m delighted for him.”
As for England Under-21 defender Bennett, he looked just the £3 million part said Lambert.
“I thought he looked colossal, I really did,” said the City chief. “For someone as young as that in his first game in the Premiership, I was delighted for him.”
With Morison’s travails of late in front of goal continuing, the City chief will welcome Holt’s return next weekend for the Carrow Road visit of an in-form Everton side. Their private, Merseyside duel with Liverpool will keep David Moyes’ men bubbling till the end of the season; there’s nothing easy about that game.
Nor is there about Easter Monday’s trip to White Hart Lane. As has been said before, expect more drama before that Fat Lady finally sings.