Morgan Amalfitano’s 16th minute strike proved all that it needed to condemn the Canaries to a potentially fatal 1-0 home defeat against West Bromwich Albion this afternoon.
Given the four, formidable fixtures that lie in wait after a trip to Craven Cottage, today’s contest was the proverbial ‘six-pointer’. With bells and knobs on.
And while City might have hit the woodwork twice in a brief rally after the break, such welcome urgency was notable only by its absence in the first period when the Canaries once again failed to hit the heights required of a Premier League side – particularly in front of goal where, once again, the greatest gap in the armoury was laid painfully bare.
The club’s record strike signing didn’t even make it off the bench – testament to a miserable season given the importance of this afternoon’s result.
Fulham’s late away win will not have helped the fearful mood; they now lie just five points distant. Victory next weekend will carve that gap down to two with just the four games remaining.
Given the form and fortunes of the principal title contenders, Norwich’s last remaining hope will be that Arsenal’s interest in proceedings will have dwindled sufficiently to give them a hope of a final miracle.
But it is all very slim pickings on a bleak weekend for the Norfolk club.
They are right up a certain creek – and all without a strike paddle to be seen.
For what was – by anyone’s standards – a huge game in their recent history, boss Chris Hughton made a big call from the outset when the luckless Ricky van Wolfswinkel found himself back on the bench as Gary Hooper finally got the nod ahead of the misfiring Dutchman.
Joseph Yobo was the other returnee – back in at the expense of Ryan Bennett, whose performances of late had looked less than assured.
Given what lies in store for the Canaries in those final, forthcoming weeks it was all-but imperative that they keep it tight in the game’s opening exchanges and try and get themselves onto the front foot goal-wise. As hard as that might be given the paucity of their resources in the final third.
Johan Elmander’s horrible, miscued side-foot effort from near the penalty spot underlined their issues in that regard. A point that the Baggies merely hammered home two minutes later when they stole into the lead – an advantage that they would then cling to for the next hour and a quarter.
Amalfitano was the man with the sure, right-foot finish across John Ruddy and into the far corner. Given everything, it was the last thing anyone needed – particularly given the disjointed manner in which the home side had started. Defensively they were equally unsure; Ruddy looking less than confident as the City back line made another change at its heart.
And there lay another story of their season. Both at centre-forward and centre-half, Norwich have found nothing that works.
And with inconsistent selection comes inconsistent performances; no-one appears sure as to what they are doing.
The break arrived with City still lost for an answer as to a way back into the contest – Elmander’s 39th minute header failing to beat the keeper. Hughton’s management would, as ever, come back under the spotlight if events failed to improve after the interval.
Robert Snodgrass linked well with Elmander to force two, quick corners as his 20-yard effort drifted wide off a deflection. It was better. Once again, however, it was a winger offering the greatest attacking threat.
Hooper tried to make amends for that fact in the 58th minute when his fierce, angled drive fell back off the junction of bar and post. City had, finally, found an urgency to their game. Two minutes later and Baggies keeper Ben Foster was finger-tipping a Snodgrass free-kick onto the bar.
They were, in fairness, in charge and on top. But the visitors were refusing to yield their lead easily. And the more Norwich pushed forward with ever more desperation, so the danger remained that West Brom would steal the killer second at the other end.
The exit of Wesley Hoolahan for Nathan Redmond didn’t wholly appease the natives; there was even a rare outing for Luciano Becchio as van Wolfswinkel’s fall from grace continued; the one-time Leeds favourite being granted 20 minutes to fire his own Carrow Road career into life.
It was all a little desperate with the Canary faithful knowing all-too well that this was a ‘must win’ game on the club’s calendar. If the results elsewhere stood as they were going into the final 15 minutes, City would be 17th this evening.
And while there might be a five-point cushion between them and Fulham, everyone else would be taking huge heart from their final four fixtures of the season. Cardiff and Sunderland included.
Not for the first time in the club’s history, Fulham (a) could determine their destiny.