New Canary coach Mike Phelan was given a grandstand view of just why Norwich are where they are in the Championship table as City threw away a 2-1 lead at home to Brighton and were left with a mere point for their 3-3 troubles.
Russell Martin’s stunning strike on his 200th appearance for the club should have been all the inspiration Neil Adams’ men needed to return to winning ways.
Instead Kazenga LuaLua’s 66th minute leveller put the visiting Seagulls right back in the contest. One penalty later and they looked to be heading back to the South Coast with all three points – with Adams’ position looking all set to come under yet more scrutiny.
In the event, however, late substitute Gary Hooper rode to his partial rescue with City’s third goal – enough to earn them a share of the spoils against a Brighton side that haven’t exactly set the world alight this season.
Norwich are scratching out points and performances with a squad that should be commanding such games. Today’s result will do little to quell the listless mood amongst supporters. The arrival of the vastly experienced Phelan has, if anything, only quickened the pulse of those hoping for a change at the top.
“If we’re scoring three goals at home, we should be winning games,” said Martin afterwards, whose own special strike deserved more than a point.
“And if you look at the teams that are up at the top, then maybe they are winning a bit uglier,” he added, as he spoke to BBC Radio Norfolk.
The final few minutes against Nottingham Forest and a two-week international break have done little it seems to rid the City defence of very, soft centre. Goals change games – and too many soft goals tend to change managers.
“Maybe we were a bit too open when we went 2-1 up,” admitted Martin, as Adams adheres to playing ‘the Norwich way’ – arguably to his own cost when the chances are failing to be converted. It was another blank day at the office for Messrs Jerome and Grabban.
Phelan’s introduction to the topsy-turvy life that comes with standing on a Norwich City touch line of late took little more than half-an-hour to materialise, as Bruno’s header from an Adrian Colunga assist put the visitors ahead.
It also probably had the bookies slashing their odds on the former Manchester United coach occupying a more prominent role at Carrow Road as Adams looked to re-ignite City’s spluttering season in front of the home faithful.
In fairness, it took little more than five minutes for Norwich to conjure up a response as Howson found himself on the end of a Nathan Redmond cross and guided his header home into the bottom corner for a leveller.
That said, however, the Canaries were still seeking a solution at the heart of their defence where Jos Hooiveld provided the latest partner for Michael Turner as club skipper Russell Martin marked his 200th appearance for the Norfolk club by a continuing stint at right-back.
In an equally ill-settled midfield, Gary O’Neil’s recent rise to prominence failed to last over the international break as Bradley Johnson paired up with Alexander Tettey and Howson was left to do his thing off Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban.
Which he duly did just before the interval – much to the relief off all in yellow and green.
Four minutes after the re-start and Martin made it very plain that he is one man who knows how to mark a milestone in style with the kind of goal that lights up a season.
Howson’s corner was half-cleared and there was the City skipper, ready to strike the ball beautifully back into the top corner. Thank you, and goodnight.
Or rather that should have been that. With two goals to their name in those ten, odd, crucial minutes either side of the interval, Norwich had the perfect platform upon which to build a convincing home win.
In the 66th minute, Brighton levelled.
LuaLua found the time and the space to pick his spot beyond John Ruddy and once again City’s inability to shut up shop – or, indeed, to go from a one-goal advantage to two, home and hosed – had cost them dear.
Frail and fragile – at either end of the pitch – does not make for a winning combination.
The footballing gods, of course, had another kick in the teeth awaiting the luckless Adams as new-boy Hooiveld fouled Sam Baldock and Colunga did the rest from the penalty spot.
Hooper’s late arrival did at least spare some of Adams’ blushes as the Canaries pulled themselves level via his 85th minute equaliser.
Deep into added-on time and it had all got too much for the returning Johnson. His second yellow of the afternoon prompted a red card and Norwich ended the contest one man and two more points short of where they were at the hour-mark.
The inquests will be long and laboured. Mr Phelan has work to do.