Kim Bo-Kyung threw a large spanner into Alex Neil’s well-oiled promotion works this evening as relegation-threatened Wigan grabbed a 1-0 win to end City’s six-game winning sequence.
That extraordinary run made the Canary chief a shoo-in for February’s Manager of the Month Award – the curse of which duly descended on Carrow Road this evening as ex-City star Malky Mackay orchestrated a famous away success for the troubled Latics as his latest charges stole into an eighth minute lead and refused to yield for the next 90.
The one saving grace to an otherwise eminently forgettable night was the news that Ipswich had lost away at Leeds.
At least Norwich’s nearest and dearest would not be leap-frogging back over their rivals, but it was scant consolation for the three, big Sky Bet Championship points that had gone horribly begging.
“We didn’t play well enough as a group – we just didn’t have enough spark,” said Neil afterwards, as Norwich missed out on a gilt-edged opportunity to go second.
“Unfortunately if you don’t have enough players playing well enough then you are always going to find it tough,” Neil told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
The bad news wasn’t limited to events on the pitch. Off it, Lewis Grabban is booked in for surgery on a swollen ankle tomorrow. Given the complicated nature of ankle injuries and the complex surgery that accompanies it that might be his season over.
Neil was not putting a time frame on the striker’s likely return, but admitted it was a ‘huge’ blow.
“Lewis is going to need an operation tomorrow unfortunately,” revealed the City chief.
“He’s been doing very well for us over the last six games, but he’s struggling with his ankle. It’s not actually clear what the problem is, so we’ll know more tomorrow what the time-frame is,” said Neil, as his best-laid promotion plans hit an unwelcome bump in the road.
“He [Grabban] was fine after the derby. Then he came in the following day and he was struggling and said he couldn’t walk on it; then he came in the next day and it was even worse. So we got it scanned and unfortunately – for him and for us – it showed we need to get it looked at.
“We’ve got a big squad and we’re now looking to the guys to step up to the plate.”
With promotion rivals Derby losing last night, the door to second spot banged wide open for a team enjoying the kind of compelling, promotion form that Norwich were ahead of this evening’s fixture.
But the danger always was that, after the Lord Mayor’s Ball of Sunday’s derby success over the neighbours, City would fall flat on their faces at home to a struggling Wigan three days later.
That certainly would have been true of Canaries past; whether new boss Neil had rid Canaries present of such a habit was the night’s big question – made even more pertinent once the Latics had stolen into that early lead via Bo-Kyung’s smart strike. As Norwich duly threatened to fall fat on their faces.
The fact that the in-form Grabban was nowhere to be seen should not have made much difference given that his replacement was the club’s top scorer.
Likewise, the sight of Wes Hoolahan back on the bench was mitigated by a start for Gary Hooper, while Premiership loanee Graham Dorrans also returned as Neil juggled his midfield resources on the back of Alexander Tettey’s suspension.
Even if youngster Carlton Morris had found his way onto the bench, this certainly wasn’t a weakened Norwich finding themselves a goal adrift at the break. This was a team with all the tools anyone might have needed in this division to put Wigan to bed for the evening – if their attitude was right.
Something, no doubt, that Neil would be addressing in the dressing room after Martin Olsson, Dorrans and Cameron Jerome had all failed to wipe out Wigan’s early opener.
Hooper failed to make a re-appearance after the break as Hoolahan was thrust back onto centre-stage. Neil wasn’t mucking around. In his world, this game was not due to end with a smash-and-grab success for the Latics.
A point that would have been hammered home with Glaswegian force over the half-time refreshments.
Nothing much, however, changed for the better. Jonny Howson and Sebastien Bassong would try their luck as Norwich continued to press forward; a 63rd minute booking for Jerome only summed up their frustrations as nothing quite went to plan in the final third of the pitch.
Stuck fast in the bottom three and a goal to the good against the Sky Bet Championship’s form team, Wigan weren’t about to open up and chase a second goal. They were going to sit very, very tight and try to cling on to their precious advantage.
Hoolahan bought a cheap free-kick on the edge of the box only for Bradley Johnson to blaze over. His magic touch had disappeared for the night as the clock ticked down.
With a quarter of an hour of normal time remaining Master Morris made his appearance. Fresh from the extended loan spell at York City, the Academy youngster had the perfect opportunity to make a name for himself – if the footballing gods were willing.
They weren’t playing ball and once Jerome had fired wide in the game’s dying moments so City’s recent winning streak was about to come to a sticky end.
At home to a club in the bottom three. But then that’s Norwich.