A Luis Suarez hat-trick condemned the Canaries to a 3-0 defeat at Carrow Road this afternoon and once again proved that – at this level – every slip can prove fatal.
Two mistakes in the space of four, first-half minutes did the real damage as Suarez pounced mercilessly and left City still awaiting mathematical certainty as to their Premier League fate this season.
The Uruguayan’s third and final goal eight minutes from the end of normal time merely confirmed that, when in the mood, players of Suarez’ ilk operate on a different level again from City’s merely mortals as he seized on a slip from Elliott Ward and floated the most outrageous of 55-yard lobs home over a helpless John Ruddy.
With Steven Gerrard imperious in the middle of the park and Jamie Carragher unmoveable at the back, it proved to be a long, wet, cold and miserable afternoon for Norwich players and supporters alike.
Next weekend doesn’t bring too much by way of a respite either with the Canaries heading to The Emirates and a date with Mr Van Persie.
“There’s not too many times that I’ve walked away from here disappointed, but tonight I am,” said Lambert, well aware that Norwich didn’t help themselves defensively with Suarez in the mood he was.
“They were three great finishes, but…” was the gist. “You can’t give someone of that calibre the time and the chances that we did. He can hurt you.”
The bigger picture remained in his mind.
“Staying in this league will surpass anything this club has achieved over the last couple of years, but we just need to get over that finishing line,” he said. “Liverpool are a world-renowned club with world class players and two years ago we were in League One.”
The Canaries headed into this evening’s squally battle once much-changed again from last weekend when James Vaughan and Grant Holt had sought to bang another nail in Blackburn’s Premier League coffin and, in so doing, end Norwich’s own battle with the survival maths.
Both returned to the bench for the visit of the FA Cup finalists; along with Wes Hoolahan, Russell Martin and Andrew Surman, as Lambert opted to throw Steve Morison up top on his own with Anthony Pilkington, Jonny Howson and Elliott Bennett charged with delivering the lone striker their support.
It lasted nine minutes before Lambert had to revert to a Plan B as the footballing fates decided to play rough with Adam Drury’s best-laid Testimonial Game plans. The long-serving City defender was led gingerly away with what looked for all the world like a pulled groin as Martin made a swift return to first team duty.
Little wonder that Drury cut a thoughtful figure in the dug-out, given his big night out with the Bhoys next month.
In and around that, however, the Canaries started the game briskly enough with Pilkington, in particular, giving Glen Johnson reason to look over his shoulder.
Twice Bradley Johnson almost threaded him in; when David Fox did, it needed a very timely interception from Carragher to avert the ball away from the arriving Morison.
City’s brighter start counted for very little, however, come the 24th minute when, once again, one slip proved fatal. Two would prove a disaster.
Fox was the one that first lost possession to Gerrard. His little ball fed Suarez through the inside left channel and it was a typically clinical, Premier League finish that did for Ruddy.
Liverpool sniffed blood as Ryan Bennett’s shoulder deflected Gerrard’s own drive wide moments later.
Fox’s slip was just the start. Kyle Naughton left Ward short four minutes later and the Canary skipper suddenly found Suarez skipping away from him. The finish from the corner of the Norwich box was straight out of the top drawer – the one inhabited by the likes of van Persie, Bale, Aguero and Tevez.
Two mistakes, two goals. And, potentially, ‘Thank you and good night!’
Come the break and Morison had company in the shape of Everton old boy Vaughan as Fox made way for the change in thinking.
Bennett (E) stung Jose Reina’s hands with a dipper in the 50th; Johnson glanced a header wide; Jonjo Shelvey headed against the bar as the contest opened up. Shelvey would miss a total sitter moments later as Gerrard released Jose Enrique down the left.
Ruddy would play his part with a strong save low to his right as Stewart Downing cut inside on the hour mark.
The City keeper was left a spectator four minutes later as Suarez went in search of his hat-trick via a nut-meg of Ryan Bennett. The dinked lob to follow did no justice to that first touch as it sailed harmlessly over both Ruddy and bar.
The second didn’t.
It flew over Ruddy and under the bar from all of 55 yards out. Or 50.79 metres to be precise, according to the Sky, looping graphic afterwards.
It was some goal to complete your hat-trick as Suarez pounced on a tired slip by Ward and sailed the most magnificent of lobs over a stranded Norwich keeper.