A 46th minute penalty miss by Lewis Grabban cost the Canaries dear this afternoon as Neil Adams’ high-fliers found themselves slipping back into the play-off pack following a narrow 1-0 defeat at Fulham.
Craven Cottage has never been the happiest of hunting grounds of late for the Norfolk side, but refreshed and relaxed after the international break the City faithful travelled to the capital hoping that such minor irritants as an inability to fire on all cylinders in the opening 45 minutes and the question as to quite what to do with Mr Hoolahan had been resolved by Adams and his back-room team in the interim.
Alas, the questions will only continue back up the A11 tonight as Sean Kavanagh’s 22nd minute strike again found City trailing at the interval. And, indeed, at the final whistle.
Grabban’s big moment from the spot came almost immediately after the restart follow a foul on strike partner Cameron Jerome.
Had his aim been three inches lower and the contest would have taken on a completely different complexion. It wasn’t and it didn’t – the width of a crossbar giving Adams and Co more thinking to do before Norwich entertain Leeds United on Tuesday night.
Momentum is slipping. And that would be a worry, as Adams himself admitted afterwards.
“It’s been three games now – and it can’t go on,” said the City chief, left frustrated by events against both Rotherham and Charlton – and now Fulham. “And there’s obviously a lot to be worked on; we’re still dominating games in terms of possession, but we’re just not scoring the goals that we were. We have to take games by the scruff of the neck.”
Grabban “just wasn’t himself today”, the manager admitted. He certainly has lost that purple run of form that saw him flying out of the blocks with his new employers. As then did Jerome. But the goals have dried up for the pair of them of late and everything is going a little south.
“The small details need to be ironing out. That’s three games now we’ve dominated – but only taken the one point. And we’re not keeping clean sheets which is also a concern.
“We tick all those boxes in terms of possession,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk. “But we haven’t won again. And we can’t carry on like that. It’s still fine lines again; the penalty and we’ve hit the bar again. But for me the disappointing thing is that we haven’t created too many clear-cut chances for the amount of possession that we’ve had.”
The sense was that Fulham were a club on the turn following the exit of the eccentric Felix Magath and with someone as solid and as simple as Kit Symons in charge, the players were always likely to respond to a ‘decent fella’.
Which the Fulham caretaker has always seemed.
Likewise the have one Scotty Parker in their midst who has run the show against Norwich all-too many a time before. So any pre-match assumptions that a trip to Craven Cottage this season was going to be the proverbial walk in the riverside park were always likely to be a little on the side of wishful thinking.
Plus City have toiled of late – in particular with regard to just how do you fit the mercurial Hoolahan into a flat midfield four with Jerome and Grabban up top.
It is the age-old question that dogs players with the individual build and talent of our Wesley – particularly in this division when time and space are in even shorter supply than in the Premier League.
Damned for playing him wide in a four, he needs the Dubliner to make a diamond his own if he is to leave Grabban and Jerome up front; it is all one of the tougher challenges Adams has to face, and resolve, this autumn.
He might not have that decision to make mid-week as Hoolahan disappeared injured just before the hour-mark to be replaced, inevitably, by Master Murphy.
It didn’t look too clever afterwards, either. The Republic of Ireland international twisted badly on his ankle and knew immediately that a change would need to be made.
“He’s gone over on his ankle and he’s on crutches at the minute,” Adams reported.
“We won’t know the extent of the damage until we get it scanned tomorrow. He knew straight away, so its definitely a concern and, hopefully, its not a bad one. But he’s certainly doubtful.”
Gary Hooper would also get his opportunity to re-boot his Norwich career after a difficult summer injury-wise. But he, too, failed to prise a leveller out of a stubborn Fulham side – one re-born under caretaker Symons.
He can do no wrong right now; for Adams it is more a case of remembering what he was doing so right to get the Canaries to the top of the table.