Norwich City today delivered an all-too typical, abject away performance as they slipped to a spineless 3-0 defeat at Swansea City – their sixth, successive reverse on the road.
It was as bad as last weekend was good. Once Jonathan de Guzman had opened his account on the half-hour, the result was never really in doubt. Wayne Routledge’s second-half strike to make it 3-0 officially ended the contest, but in reality City rarely threatened to upset the apple-cart.
Ashley Williams did clear off the line from the willing Robert Snodgrass, but that was almost it. They were back to their toothless worst.
As ever, City’s home games will continue to dictate their fate – in particular, next weekend’s arrival of West Bromwich Albion in Norfolk.
The fact that the Baggies were held at home by struggling Cardiff City will offer some encouragement, whilst Crystal Palace’s shock 1-0 win over top of the table Chelsea proves that the form book can disappear out of the nearest window as everyone looks ahead to City’s formidable final four games of the season.
But it would be a very, very thin straw to cling to if West Bromwich Albion (h) and Fulham (a) didn’t deliver the six points Norwich are going to need.
As boss Chris Hughton looked to build again on last weekend’s huge, home success over Sunderland, so the Canaries found themselves almost unchanged for today’s long haul west. Joseph Yobo was the absentee; in came Ryan Bennett.
Victory would leave them all-but one win away from Premier League safety; momentum would be maintained; it would all be well within their grasp. If this afternoon went according to plan.
Which was a big ‘if’; consistency performance-wise has not been a hallmark of Hughton’s sides – invariably injury would hit his best-laid plans; a misfiring forward line has also forced the Canary chief to chop and change all-too regularly in the hope of finding that winning chemistry in front of goal.
All of which meant that Gary Hooper had to sit and watch Ricky van Wolfswinkel try and finally fire his season into life.
Alongside him Johan Elmander had at least broken his duck with the goal away at St Mary’s; all eyes, however, would be on Wes Hoolahan and whether the Dubliner could relish his freer role in the manner he did against the Black Cats.
None excelled. Hoolahan disappeared at the break.
From the start, it was the home side that looked the more threatening; John Ruddy having a flappy moment in the 17th minute before Michu slipped between Bennett and Russell Martin ten minutes later.
Routledge would force a fine, one-handed save from Ruddy as the Swans continued to press; it took a fabulous, defensive challenge from an alert Hoolahan to deny de Guzman the rebound.
The latter was not, however, to be denied two minutes later when Swansea – rightly – took a 30th minute lead. Jonjo Shelvey’s deep cross was never completely cleared and there was the Swans midfielder to drive a 22-yard effort through a clutch of yellow shirts and on beyond a diving Ruddy.
City were a shadow of their Sunderland selves; hesitant at the back, they looked distant and disconnected up front. Should they survive, there will be a huge summer inquest into just what it is going to take to deliver a Premier League level strike force.
At the back, Bennett’s discomfort deepened when de Guzman doubled Swansea’s lead.
It was Wilfried Bony with the unlock; a perfect back-heel into the path of his team-mate leaving City’s England Under-21 defender wholly at sea as de Guzman finished with casual ease. Norwich were sinking without trace; second to everything right across the park.
Hughton rang the changes at the break; off went Hoolahan for Jonás Gutiérrez with Bradley Johnson replacing Jonny Howson as the midfield bore the brunt of the manager’s wrath.
In fairness, Norwich were the brighter of the two teams in the opening moments of the second-half, but they would need a goal from somewhere to even start to ruffle the Swans’ feathers.
Though the Canaries found a little bit more by way of bite, they still struggled in front of goal as the home side regained their composure and their threat. It was all a far cry from last weekend’s heroics from Alexander Tettey; he, in particular, was struggling to keep a lid on his frustrations as he scythed down Routledge on the edge of his own box and earned a yellow as a result.
Elmander at least forced Michel Vorm into a save in the 65th minute with a sharp effort off a Snodgrass cross, but otherwise it was Swansea who looked the more likely to score as Norwich’s possession continued to be all-too ragged around the edges. As, indeed, was the game. Tempers were starting to fray in the spring sunshine.
With some 20 minutes left another unhappy afternoon ended for van Wolfswinkel as Hooper made his appearance. How long Hughton would persist to favour the Dutchman ahead of the former Bhoys hero would remain to be seen.
It mattered little. On 76 minutes Routledge made it three off a slide-rule pass into the inside-left channel from a dominant Shelvey. Norwich had never got close enough to the one-time Charlton wonder-kid. He ran the show and with all manner of bright movement in front of him, Swansea were running out worthy winners.
As for Norwich they were chalk and cheese appetite and application-wise from the home clash with Sunderland. The one and only consistent factor to their home and away performances was the almighty hole the club has at the front of the team.
Try as anyone might, it is one, huge crack that refuses to be papered over.