And so to the penultimate game of the season.
Dean Smith rolled the dice again with a switch to a 3-4-3 formation to match up with Wolves. Ben Gibson was given a chance to redeem for his errors in a three-man backline, with Kieran Dowell given a chance once again up front.
The atmosphere inside Molineux was almost funereal and there was little on the pitch to lift the spirits. For much of the opening half, the game was bereft of quality. Quite how Wolves have risen to top-eight status is a mystery on this performance. The home team dominated possession but were unable to turn the possession into meaningful threats on the City goal.
In response, when City broke forward, they were able to find the spaces behind the Wolves’ backline. Teemu Pukki was looking lively, yet devoid of confidence when it came to applying the killer blow.
He always seemed to take one touch too many. Former City keeper John Ruddy was also on hand to deny the Finn when he elected to flick the ball with the outside of the right boot rather than rifle home with his left. The rebound looked to be falling to Dowell before a superb tackle from Gomez.
It was a familiar story, whenever Pukki got forward – he was a lone figure, the City midfield seemingly unable or unwilling to commit to joining the attack. This may well be by design – on several occasions, Max Aarons visibly checked his supporting runs towards the area. This included the goal!
Aarons played an incisive ball into space for Pukki. The Finn, surrounded by four Wolves defenders looked out of options. Aarons had halted his supporting run. No one expected Pukki to dink a little reverse pass into the back of the net, least of all Ruddy who remained rooted to the spot.
The goal invigorated City who immediately looked sharper for the remaining few minutes of the half, creating two further opportunities before the whistle went.
At halftime, Lage introduced Chiquinho who proved to be a danger for the rest of the half. For all his attacking prowess, Dimitri Giannoulis always looks vulnerable when faced with a pacy opponent.
From the very start of the second half, when Normann sold the Greek defender short with a dreadful pass leaving him with no option but to commit a foul, Giannoulis struggled to contain the pacy Wolves wing-back.
On 53 minutes, Giannoulis clipped the winger’s heels, conceding a free-kick wide on the City left. The ball was whipped in and chaos ensued in the area. The initial challenge looked clumsy with a hint of handball – but no replay to confirm this. The ball was hacked around for a few seconds before Ait Nouri seized the chance to guide a header past Gunn.
Finally, Molineux burst into noise and for five minutes, Wolves looked more dangerous than at any other time of the match. Chiquinho played a wicked cross into the box for Netto to meet with a bullet header. A goal looked certain but Angus Gunn produced a superb reflex save to tip the ball over the bar.
City retaliated, another Pukki chance going just wide. On 60 minutes, Lukas Rupp replaced Billy Glimour followed seven minutes later by Jacob Sorensen replacing Mathias Normann. The Norwegian limping off the pitch – possibly his last Canaries’ appearance.
Sorensen immediately staked his claim for a new contract and a pivotal role next season with a number of excellent tackles. He also reminded us of his attacking prowess with a delightful through ball to Rupp, who left it too long before passing to Aarons.
On 81, Jon Rowe came on for Dowell, which was almost immediately followed by Gibson looking to have tweaked his back. He was, fortunately, able to continue after lengthy treatment, much to the disgust of the home crowd.
In the dying moments, Sorensen played another great ball to Pukki, which came to little, and Rowe made a good, positive run resulting in a City corner, the last move of the match.
For all of their good play, and there was some at times, City’s deficiencies were all too evident. For all the good work of the defenders, they were forced to sit too deep – under pressure from the ineffective defensive screen in front of them.
For all his other talents, Normann simply doesn’t have anything like the awareness of City’s last Norwegian midfielder, the venerable Alex Tettey. Indeed, it was Normann who was slow to react to Nouri for the Wolves’ goal.
The midfield, as already noted, does not work moving forward either. While he scales the world’s tallest mountain, the City Sporting Director has hopefully left instructions to seek out a box-to-box midfielder and a defensive midfielder.
One game to go – an improbable win against Tottenham may see City move off the bottom and end on the season on a high (well, less low) note.