Two goals in the final five minutes of this afternoon’s trip to the City Ground, Nottingham, proved a heart-breaker for Norwich boss Neil Adams and left the Canaries slumping ever further down the Championship table.
For 70 minutes, Johnny Howson’s first-half opener looked enough to be sending the Norfolk side back into the play-off places – ending a miserable run of one win in their last seven outings.
But five minutes from the end of normal time Britt Assombalonga grabbed his tenth goal of the season; on the 90th minute mark, Michail Antonio would stun the visitors with a last-gasp winner.
Two, hammer blows that found Norwich slipping back into tenth spot and Antonio being booked for excessive celebrations. The contrasting moods of either camp at the final whistle could not have been more marked.
At the top of the table, Derby’s emphatic 5-0 lunchtime success over Wolves has them flying; full of goals and belief. As were Middlesbrough in mid-week.
Norwich aren’t looking the promotion part; certainly not the way they did in September. They are, right now, struggling to look the play-off part – even if Adams did use today’s trip to the East Midlands to shift Russell Martin out of that troubled defence and back to full-back.
Such tweaks are but a part of the problem; the Canaries need to rediscover the simple joy that comes with winning a game of football – and fast if the rampant Rams are not to disappear off and over the horizon.
“It’s a sickening feeling the manner that we’ve lost the game today,” said Adams afterwards, as the Canaries conceded that killer second from their own corner kick.
From one end to the other in an instant. And the goal to finish it.
“The spotlight falls on us all – managers, coaches, players. We’ve got to get back on track; get back to winning games. And it’s so galling. For 85 minutes it was all that we wanted – and we’ve thrown it all away.”
The fact that City now have a two-week international break doesn’t help, either. Such endings to games – and the accusations of a lack of experience at the heart of that dressing room – have a tendency to sit and fester without a fresh game to ponder.
“To be caught from our own corner kick with a couple of minutes left of stoppage time or whatever it was is a sickening feeling.
“We’ve thrown the game away today. It shouldn’t happen in that manner – it shouldn’t come from our corner kick. They’ve got out of jail – and gone and stolen the points.”
Before the match, Adams actually made the long-mooted switch and pushed his Scottish international skipper back to right-back at the expense of Steven Whittaker only to find Martin conceding a free-kick within the game’s opening 90 seconds.
His second foul less seconds later earned the game’s first yellow card. One way or the other, he was making his presence felt. Whether it was a sign of his frustration at bearing the brunt of the ‘debate’ about Norwich’s recent loss of form was for him to know, others to guess.
Bigger questions would be asked of that defence before the afternoon was out.
As Forest pressed forward in the manner befitting the home side with Tom Ince and Jamaal Lascelles threatening – Martin’s qualities as an attacking full-back were back to the fore in the 16th minute as he offered Howson an assist for the game’s opening goal.
To take the lead, away from home and all after the miserable events at Middlesbrough in mid-week must have initially been a huge relief to Adams and Co; slamming Bradley Johnson and Lewis Grabban back into the fray as part of the three changes that saw Carlos Cuellar partner Michael Turner at centre-half were the calls of a manager under pressure to stop the rot.
And with Norwich going in at the break still that one goal ahead, Adams’ mission was halfway to being accomplished. Indeed, were results to stay the same come five o’clock the Canaries would bounce back over the neighbours – a Brucie Bonus for the City management.
Twice in the space of five minutes Grabban would seek to extend Norwich’s advantage only to find Forest keeper Karl Darlow in his way as Howson and Gary O’Neil continued to push and prod the visitors in the right direction.
City also needed to hold firm at the back as Forest sought a way back into the contest – including one-time Norwich loan signing Henri Lansbury.
But the debate would rage – at 1-0 you do one of two things; push on and up for the second – or sit back and try to hold on to your slender advantage. And pray.
In the event it was the 21-year-old Assombalonga who would wreck Adams’ afternoon; the £5.5m striker was always going to be the one Norwich needed to watch. The one-time they let him out of their sights, the damage was done.
And even worse was then to follow.
Three more points ripped from City’s grasp; another week without a win to celebrate. And only more questions for the hard-pressed Adams to answer.
It could be a long, hard winter in Norfolk.