That was a hard one to take. Another one.
But this time the players left the Carrow Road pitch to thunderous applause. A standing ovation even in the face of defeat. And that, on this occasion, said more than the heart-wrenching scoreline.
The statisticians tell us City are doomed – as do the bookies and the pundits – and it’s impossible to argue with a form guide that shows five straight defeats and seven on the bounce away from Carrow Road.
By the time Norwich kick-off at Old Trafford on Saturday teatime they will have been marooned on 32 points for over a month. Inertia at a time when momentum is king.
Chuck into the mix the final three fixtures and perhaps if I were Paddy Power I’d be arriving at a similar conclusion.
But I don’t think we’re done. Not by a long shot.
It’s impossible of course to ignore the defensive soft centre that still exists, and there is much for Neil Adams and his team to pore over from yesterday’s opening twenty minutes, but equally there is plenty to build on from the final seventy.
And similarly there was plenty to admire from the technical area.
It was clear from said opening period that the plan wasn’t working. The formation that was ‘almost but not quite’ at Craven Cottage was horribly pulled apart and Adams acted. The shape of the midfield was changed and with Leroy Fer operating from a more central position so was the balance of the game.
Ultimately those opening exchanges were to prove costly and City were effectively blown away in that fraught opening (and we’re not the first team to have suffered similarly at the hands of the ‘mighty reds’) but the response was emphatic.
I was advised on Saturday (from a Southampton supporting colleague of all people…) that we were going to be on the wrong end of a 6-0, and I can’t pretend that it didn’t flick through my mind at 2-0 down after 11 minutes, but I needn’t have worried.
Instead, rather than being steam-rollered, the Canaries rolled up their metaphorical sleeves up and dug in. The heads stayed high and the chests remained puffed out. And what we witnessed was a City side ‘giving it a go’. Something we have been asking for all season.
And Brendan Rodgers’ men knew they had been in a game. The sight of them holding the ball in the corner to wind down the clock was in itself a concession that they had been in one; not something that has been required in recent Liverpool/City encounters.
That City managed to find the net twice against the champions elect and take them to the wire suggests progress, but with just three games remaining the big question is can they turn promise into points, or is it too little too late.
None of us know the answer of course but there is a verve and a purpose about our play right now that suggests there is still life. The players appear to believe it. So should we.
There were stirring performances aplenty yesterday, but Robert Snodgrass again took the honours with another display that blew holes in the theory that it matters more to the supporters than it does to the players.
A friend and I were discussing pre-match how – barring a few notable exceptions – it is nigh on impossible for the players to feel what we’re feeling. After all, they are just custodians of the shirt who are ‘passing through’. Few have experienced the ups and downs of the yellow and green that we have and few have felt the pain we have. Their’s has more to do with dented professional pride
But judging by the reaction upon the final blast of Andre Marriner’s whistle it genuinely does matter. Snodgrass was out on his feet, having given every last ounce of energy to the cause; Nathan Redmond again appeared close to tears; Bradley Johnson and Russell Martin, both suffering from similar levels of desperation.
And of all of them, it was Johnson I felt most sorry for yesterday. While the quality of his passing has been called into question many times, none of us have ever doubted his willingness to fight and battle.
Yesterday – with one painful exception – he produced a performance that married the two together perfectly. Alas it will be the intercepted pass to Martin Olsson for which his afternoon will be remembered; his desperately unlucky deflection over a stranded John Ruddy merely rubbing salt into the wound. Which is a shame.
He, along with Snodgrass and Howson (there is a theme developing…) typified the hunger for the battle that is going to be so important over the next three games.
The trick for Adams – one which so eluded Chris Hughton – is of course to translate good Carrow Road performances, which are buoyed by a raucous Carrow Road crowd, into winning performances on the road. That will be the real test.
Amidst the hundreds of permutations I still remain hopeful that a point from either Manchester United or Chelsea and a win on the last day against Arsenal will still be enough for safety. There are plenty out there who will tell us otherwise, and the media-love for yesterday’s opponents is something we can only dream of, so perhaps a siege mentality is what’s needed to see us limp over the line.
To rely on favours from others will undoubtedly end in disappointment. We need to do it ourselves – the hard way.
And after yesterday I still believe we can.