Two, quality strikes from England World Cup hopeful Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas either side of the break set Everton on their way to an all-too expected, 2-0 success at Goodison Park this afternoon as the Canaries continued to flirt alarmingly with a return to the bottom three.
Sunderland’s thumping win at Fulham will have done the Canaries a few favours; it was West Ham’s big win at Cardiff City that the hard-pressed Chris Hughton could have done without – he would have preferred the managerial heat to be kept on Sam Allardyce.
Instead the Norfolk side found themselves stuck fast just two points above the drop zone; just four points now separating the bottom seven clubs. No-one was lost and adrift. Premier League status was anyone’s to lose.
With two home games next on the agenda – to Hull City and Newcastle United – Norwich’s biggest challenge remained the most fundamental: scoring goals.
For today’s open and engaging contest offered the visitors chances. Once again, none were taken.
And with the January transfer window now open for business and with the board showing little immediate inclination to swap managers mid-season, that is where the attention will now have to focus – finding someone to find the net on a more consistent basis.
Which will cost serious cash. Wherein lies the next question for the board.
For those that liked their conspiracy theories, the sight of Villa target Wes Hoolahan taking his place on the Canary bench would have come as something of a blow; the 31-year-old Dubliner had clearly not yet played his last game for the club – or rather should the occasion demand later in the contest.
It didn’t. But he was still to be seen in club colours.
Otherwise, there was a rare start for Javier Garrido in front of Martin Olsson with Leroy Fer returning after his recent, one-match ban.
Of equal significance was the fact that Hughton went into battle with two out-and-out strikers paired together in the shape of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel – the latter’s one and only goal of the season came, of course, against Everton in the opening game of the campaign.
A repeat this weekend would be sorely welcomed by all of a Norwich hue.
City did have one, small break of luck before kick-off with the news that Everton’s latest boy wonder Ross Barkley was missing with a toe injury; Leighton Baines did, however, return.
Bradley Johnson had an early, quarter-chance before the home side settled into their stride and produced a big chance for Romelu Lukaku at the far post in the 12th minute as Mirallas opened Norwich up with a wonderful deep and inviting cross from the left.
It was a timely reminder as to why Everton were in sight of grabbing fourth place should they win today, though in fairness City didn’t look wholly over-awed as Hooper found himself free to test Tim Howard – one the Everton keeper passed with all-too much ease.
Come the 23rd minute and the Canaries would have greater cause to regret that missed opportunity as Barry dug out a stunner in front of the watching England boss Roy Hodgson to drive Everton into the lead. It was one of those out of the very top drawer. That said, you stand off and give players of that calibre an invite to give it a go from 30-odd yards and they can hurt you.
Van Wolfswinkel produced a decent curling effort that Howard had to hurry to his left to save as Norwich sought to stay on their feet. For Barry had them rocking back on their heels. A second goal before the break would kill the contest.
In the event, as much as Everton pushed forward with regular menace Norwich continued to offer their own threat – in particular in the dying moments of the first period when Hooper was again denied by Howard as van Wolfswinkel and Fer both likewise threatened.
It was all entertaining stuff for those that had made the long haul north. But – as ever – goals win games. Barry had delivered a peach that City had yet to match.
The second period found the home side very much on the ascendancy as Norwich struggled to clear their lines and, indeed, find themselves with any time on the ball.
Though the bottom three wouldn’t be their’s tonight, that whole pack at the foot of the Premier League table was closing up rapidly and it promised to be a long and fraught spring for all concerned.
Particularly when Everton proceeded to take full command of the contest via another perfect strike – this time a Mirallas free-kick that swirled up and over the Norwich wall and inside John Ruddy’s right upright. The wall had held firm, the keeper had been in a half-decent position – it was simple quality that did for them again.
Ryan Bennett’s initial foul on a marauding Baines was where it all went wrong and with 30 minutes to go, City had their hands full.
Nathan Redmond’s arrival for Garrido did find the 19-year-old testing Howard; once again, Norwich crearted without converting. The teenager would also have claimed the assist for a Snodgrass header – had the frame of the goal not denied the Scot in the 79th minute.
Norwich were trying. But try as well as they might, they couldn’t find the goals that Everton could.
At the back, Steven Whittaker pulled off an exemplary tackle to thwart David McCarthy as the two teams continued to swap chances until the final whistle.
Van Wolfswinkel’s drought continued as he made way late on for Josh Murphy. Once again the 18-year-old was making an appearance with the horse having long bolted; once again Norwich’s £8 million man had drawn a blank in front of goal.
Which tells its own story.