Liverpool this afternoon did the Canaries a huge favour in the fight to avoid relegation with a 2-1 away win at Aston Villa to keep Paul Lambert’s men locked in the bottom three.
Yesterday’s 1-0 defeat at Wigan left the Norfolk side with ever more reason to keep one eye over their shoulder; last night’s dismissal of Martin O’Neill by an even more nervy Sunderland board may also have helped City’s cause as they trust that the four remaining home games this season can yield the points they need to keep themselves in the top flight.
Boss Chris Hughton warned a while ago of ‘nervy’ times between now and the end of the season; everyone would appear to be feeling the strain as the powers that be at the Stadium of Light reach for the panic button as Villa see their early lead over-turned by an ever-improving Reds side.
Newcastle’s heavy defeat this weekend also bodes ill for the North-East. Norwich might not be pulling up any trees in terms of their own forward momentum, but there are other clubs in that bottom pack who appear to be stuck even faster in the mire.
“It’s fine margins,” was Hughton’s verdict after yesterday’s set-back with Arouna Kone’s 81st minute strike proving all the difference.
Even a point from another, hard-fought 0-0 draw would have done a job and given the 2,000-strong travelling Canary support something to cling to on the long journey home.
As it was, they left empty-handed – with more food for debate on the messageboards later; whether Hughton sets out his stall too deep, whether Grant Holt should be preferred up top, whether the manager is simply too negative in his approach…
There is little doubt that – at this stage of the season – no-one is taking any chances; no-one is opening up their game in the hope of coming out on top of a seven-goal thriller. The prize is too great; the punishment for failure too severe.
Norwich fans won’t be alone in crying out for something more pleasing on the eye. It is simply not the nature of the Premier League beast come the business end of the season.
City didn’t help themselves, however.
“I thought we were our only worst enemies,” admitted the manager. “We gave away possession just before the goal and we should have dealt with it a bit better.
“And we had a fair amount of ball in the final third, but just didn’t have that final bit of quality that we needed. But certainly on the balance of play it was not a game that we deserved to lose.”
City deserved something more from their trip to Sunderland too; fortune – rather than form – was in short supply there.
They are, in short, in need of a pick-me-up; something to fire them over the line with a little to spare – rather than hobbling over the 40-point mark with accusation and antagonism thick in the air.
“A point away from home in this division is always a good point,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards, as that first goal eluded him at the JJB.
He is well aware of the ‘fine margin’ that still separates those teams currently just out of the relegation fray and those slap, bang in it. Hence the importance of today’s defeat for Villa – it keeps them down in the mire.
“There’s a group of teams that could get pulled into it,” admitted Hughton. “But we’ve got to look after ourselves.
“We have got four home games out of the seven and our destiny was always going to be about the quality results we could get at home – plus what we could pick up away from home.
“So, yes, there’s a group of teams in there, but that’s something that we knew.”