First-half strikes from Loic Remy and Yoan Gouffran ensured that City were right back at the drawing board again this evening – awaiting on the fate of tonight’s London derby to see just how close they were to the drop zone again after slipping to a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle. Swansea did everyone a favour, too.
It was Norwich’s eighth defeat in their last ten Premier League away games and, alas, merely confirmed an autumn-long belief, that this winter could prove another long, hard slog for the Norfolk club.
In fairness, Leroy Fer again did his best to pull the contest round with a fine, 79th minute header off a Nathan Redmond corner for his second goal in as many games as one or two Newcastle legs started to tire after various World Cup play-off adventures during the week.
That and assuming that the visitors had nothing left in the locker following a one-way opening period.
Which Fer punished them for. And come the end, Newcastle were hanging on.
The point being that they did hang on; did get the win; did condemn Norwich to another away defeat.
And whilst the home game against Crystal Palace might offer a little relief – albeit with the usual ‘Must win!’ pressures attached – the prospect of prising points out of either Liverpool (a) or West Bromwich Albion (a) don’t look too good whilst City remain overly reliant on the threat of their attacking Dutch midfielder.
Clearly the impending January transfer window could offer hope. But a big money strike signing – as desperate as a fresh cutting edge might be – would merely confirm the question marks that still hang over the summer strike arrivals.
Thus far, none have delivered.
Hopes of a fruitful trip to the North-East lasted little more than two minutes when Newcastle stole into an early lead.
Again, questions would be raised; were minds on the job as Remy’s five-yard header flew past John Ruddy after the very first corner of the game. It was a mess defensively.
After ending their last outing against West Ham in such a positive fashion, to concede so early and in such a fashion would have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon amongst the City faithful – all of whom would have been hoping to avoid a return to the bottom three in the forseeable future.
Boss Hughton had rewarded those who had shone in that Hammers clash with another chance to impress – teenager Redmond making a start with the club’s record summer signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel again absent as Gary Hooper was left to lead the line.
The biggest absentee, however, was Robert Snodgrass. It was the Scottish international’s perfect free-kick that set up that vital home win over West Ham; today he was nowhere to be seen as the Canaries looked to build on that last home success.
Or did for the first couple of minutes.
It wasn’t wholly one-way traffic as Fer caught an early sight of the Newcastle goal only for Tim Krul to comfortably save in the middle of the United goal. Before that, Redmond would blaze over from a decent position.
Quite where defensive minds were on the half-hour was another question for the half-time break as Shola Ameobi was given all the space and time he needed to feed a simple ball into the inside right channel for Moussa Sissoko to run onto.
Fortunately for all concerned, his final shot was snatched wide of Ruddy’s far upright.
Hooper and Anthony Pilkington would head the ball across the United goalmouth moments later as the hosts proved equally generous in their defending; as ever, however, the finish eluded the visitors. That issue wasn’t going away – even if that Hammers clash had, for once, delivered three goals.
Nor was Norwich’s defensive frailty as Newcastle doubled their lead eight minutes before the break.
Ameobi figured large again – first setting strike partner Remy away and free on the right, before heading strongly downwards off a deep Sissoko cross. That should have been that as Ruddy stooped to his left to smother.
Instead the ball slipped out of the City keeper’s grasp and from little more than five yards out, Gouffran poached the rebound. Soft. Again.
Ameobi almost capped an excellent opening 45 minutes with a stinging drive that Ruddy had to hurriedly palm wide. In fairness, given the level of Norwich’s performance few would have much room for complaint if Newcastle were three goals distant.
City were sloppy, second to everything and typically toothless up front – and got what they deserved.
The start of the second period hardly boded well as Pilkington pulled up sharply; his game over as Johan Elmander arrived and began his latest search for a first Premier League goal in Norwich colours.
A deep cross on 72 minutes from Martin Olsson found Fer rising highest – alas his header didn’t match the approach as it flew high and over Krul’s bar. He would make amends before the afternoon was out.
But even that late strike told its own story of Norwich’s season – that their most potent attacking weapon was sat in midfield. Fer and a Snodgrass free-kick right now look their best route to goal.
Given the amount of hard-earned cash that has been thrown at the Norwich frontline in a bid to find that goals and the presence that the departed Grant Holt delivered, that is not a good place to be.