City boss Chris Hughton could not hide his frustration at this weekend’s events at The Emirates as three goals in the final seven minutes for Arsenal ripped a famous Canary victory out of his hands.
A goal up – albeit against the balance of play and possession against the North London giants – the finishing line and three, priceless Premier League away points were almost within reach only for a distant linesman to ruin everyone’s day.
It was he, not the referee, that adjudged Kei Kamara to have fouled Olivier Giroud.
Mikel Arteta stepped up to convert the penalty; thereafter – with a burning sense of injustice eating into Norwich’s discipline and concentration – so the Gunners finally ran riot and secured the victory that leap-frogs them over North London neighbours Spurs and into third.
For the Canaries, defeat for QPR and draws for both Aston Villa and Reading keeps others with work to do to overhaul the Norfolk side, but nerves will be twitching when Reading arrive at Carrow Road. One game that City can ill-afford to lose.
Maybe, just maybe, today’s feelings of injustice can be bottled and unleashed against the all-but doomed Royals.
Certainly Hughton felt his side were hard done by; that the officials had done little to help Norwich’s nerves going into the ‘business end’ of the season.
“We’re aggrieved,” the Canary boss told the BBC afterwards. “It’s a decision that has gone against us – that the linesman has given from 45-50 yards away when there’s a referee less than ten yards away.
“Nobody really appeals for it. Is there some contact? Yes, there is; does he [Kamara] play the ball? Yes, he does. But for a linesman to give it from that distance away… I think it’s almost criminal. On a day when we deserved so much more.”
By Hughton’s own standards of moderate, diplomatic language, to throw the ‘criminal’ word into the mix would merely point to the depth of his frustration after Michael Turner’s 56th minute opener had given Norwich a lead that they would keep for the next 30 minutes.
But on the back of that one decision, so Arsenal twisted the knife with further, swift strikes from first Giroud and then Lucas Podolski. The latter, too, came with a high degree of controversy attached; Hughton claiming a huge offside that was again, unspotted by the assistant.
“We deserved so much more,” said Hughton, after handing skipper Grant Holt a start at The Emirates. Chances, however, were few and far between; hence the manager’s anger at having got one and taken one, Norwich left North London empty-handed.
“It’s not as if you’ll show it back and [the referee’s] view was blocked,” added Hughton.
“He had a clear view and didn’t give it and the linesman did and that’s really tough on us. Particularly to come here; to The Emirates. We gave a really good account of ourselves for 85 minutes. But we need to bounce back.”
A couple more bounces back and Norwich will be over the finishing line; safe for another season and – with the latest TV deal kicking in this summer – in unheard of riches.
But many a twist and turn still lies in wait. The next few weeks will not be for the faint-hearted.
Not that Norwich were without fault; 1-1 would still have been a decent result.
“What we did show was a bit of naievety; and that’s something that we have to learn from – at 1-1 we’re still in the game,” he added, well aware that the pressure will build again as the Canaries look to take full advantage of their remaining home games.
The survival boil needs to be lanced – ASAP, ideally.
“We’ve got three home games out of the five [remaining] and we’ve got to make sure that we make the most of them. But it won’t be difficult to dust this lot down – they are a good group.”