Even if City manage to do the impossible and win at Selhurst Park the Christmas of 2013 has not been a particularly kind one to the Canaries.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. For as long as I can remember – at least while in the top flight – we don’t really ‘do’ tough festive programmes where the games come thick and fast.
Despite every year bracing ourselves for said programme while at the same time mulling over the importance of gaining a decent return from the three or four games we invariably end up disappointed.
I’m sure there’ll be a statistician out there who’ll prove me wrong but that is certainly how it feels.
Same again this year.
With a run of fixtures that read Sunderland (a), Fulham (h), Manchester Utd (h) and Crystal Palace (a) those who predicted two wins and a draw had logic on their side. Didn’t seem unreasonable.
But, even a win at City’s bogiest of bogey grounds on New Year’s Day will see them come up short… again.
So why do we continually fail to deliver when the trimmings are up and Cliff is crooning of Mistletoe and Wine?
The only obvious answer – although a tad simplistic – is a lack of depth in the squad.
The ‘haves’ (as Mr Waghorn describes them) have squads laden with internationals who can happily rotate to keep the minds and bodies fresh while the ‘have-nots’ invariably have a core of quality that has to be spread more thinly.
David Moyes was able to rest Wayne Rooney completely and give Danny Welbeck forty-five minutes lounging on the bench before unleashing him on some tiring Canary limbs. A luxury not afforded to Chris Hughton.
But while that may be part of the issue, others of a similar ilk seem to cope rather better than City. Again, stats may prove otherwise but that’s how it feels.
And before some start gathering the pitchforks it’s not a Hughton failing per se; it’s a Norwich City one.
So… having concluded there’s no logic whatsoever in City’s continual under-achieving this time of year, it is worth noting the level of performance that Hughton’s men found yesterday.
If minds and limbs were sapped of energy following the Boxing Day bruising at the hands of mighty Fulham it didn’t show – at least not once they had cleared their heads after a lethargic opening ten minutes.
Once they had established that United’s eye-catching display of keep-ball came with a blunted cutting edge – the omission of Rooney, Welbeck and Robin van Persie helping in that regard – City played with a tempo and verve seldom seen this season.
Wes Hoolahan – back in his customary position betwixt loan striker and midfield – rolled back the years and for thirty-five minutes gave a virtuoso performance of old. The dropped shoulder, the dancing feet, the twists and turns; the full gamut was on display as a procession of Vidic, Evans, Carrick were left trailing in his wake.
And it was great to watch. With my Metro hat on I last night wrote of half-expecting one Grant Holt to burst through, all arms and legs, on to one of Wes’ eye-of-a-needle ‘dinks’ – such was the feeling of nostalgia it engendered.
Of course reality was there to slap us all in the face and despite piling on the pressure – probably one of the most sustained spells of pressure we’ve enjoyed against United – the scoreboard still read ‘0’.
Gary Hooper, Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong all warmed the hands of De Gea in the United goal and for once the half-time whistle was not music to the ears of the Yellow Army – quite the opposite in fact.
Alas, as the players disappeared down the tunnel so too did City’s best chance of doing to Moyes what we did so successfully to Sir Alex in his early days.
Such had been the Canaries domination it was clear the second half would see a different United emerge and so it proved – literally – with Giggs’ 40-year old creaking limbs making way for the speed and power of Welbeck.
And that was ultimately the difference. By throwing the England striker into the fray Moyes stemmed the tide of City pressure, primarily by ensuring our back-four were required to defend rather than attack – Martin unable to provide such an attacking thrust down the right in the second half.
And the goal – while being created virtue of a fortuitous double-deflection – was expertly finished.
One chance, one goal. Clinical.
But still, without reaching the heights of the opening forty-five, City continued to ask questions of United in the second period and the sight of them attempting to hold the ball in the corners in the closing stages told a story of its own.
So too the arrival of Darren Fletcher replacing Javier Hernandez. But held on they did.
So… pride restored, but still defeat for Hughton’s men; one that leaves them just three points shy of the drop zone and Wednesday’s opponents, Crystal Palace.
As disappointing as it was to lose, the crescendo of boos that greeted the arrival of Ricky van Wolfswinkel – or more pertinently the withdrawal of Hooper – was equally troubling and was another reminder that many are merely waiting to pounce on even the slightest perceived misjudgment of the manager.
As it happened, Hooper had been withdrawn as an injury precaution.
Typically, Hughton dealt with it in his usual unflappable and gentlemanly manner, telling the EDP: “I understand the fans’ frustration at that point because he had scored in four of last home games. They weren’t aware of the whole story and I am quite sure if they were the reaction would have been different, but I had no problem with that.”
It’s a shame those who choose to hurl abuse in his direction don’t possess even a fraction of his courtesy. The best football manager in the world he may not be – a gentleman he is.
And whatever our perception of his footballing acumen some would be well advised to remember that.