Alex Ward’s view of our first defeat in the league since the 6th October…
As the old adage goes, all good things must come to end.
But nevertheless, the rarity of defeat in the past couple of months rendered the taste of this defeat all the more bitter as an otherwise decent performance was marred by controversy and the glaring absence of Norwich talisman Grant Holt.
Prior to kickoff, confidence was high in the Canary camp, particularly given that West Bromwich Albion had gone over five hours of open play without scoring. After a stellar opening to the this year`s campaign, performances had slipped somewhat, with Steve Clarke`s men claiming just one point from their previous four league games.
Even so, the Baggies` home record was far from poor – they had won 6 out of 9 games at the Hawthorns, losing only to Stoke and Manchester City, no less.
To a vast contingent of those travelling to the Black Country, this was another winnable game; West Brom were there for the taking. But with no Grant Holt to plow the furrow up top, the much-maligned Steve Morison stepped in to deputise.
Early warning shots came in the shape of a pair of decent opportunities for Romelu Lukaku, with the 19-year-old Belgian flashing a headed effort over the crossbar before forcing a decent save from Mark Bunn after a neat pass from James Morrison.
But it was the visitors who took the lead in the 25th minute as Robert Snodgrass` delectable free kick saw the ball ripple the back of the net – his second goal of the sort in 3 games.
However, the elation was only temporary as West Bromwich equalised just prior to the interval. What seemed like obstructive play from Peter Odemwingie ensured that Mark Bunn could only tip Jonas Olsson`s header onto the woodwork before Zoltan Gera pounced on the loose ball to bundle it home. Controversial, certainly.
After the break, chances were in scant supply for both teams, with the Baggies enjoying the lion`s share of possession, albeit somewhat sterile.
But in the 82nd minute, the prospect of Hughton`s men extending their unbeaten run vanished as a deep diagonal cross from man-of-the-match Goran Popov found Lukaku, who towered over Javier Garrido to power the ball past Bunn to claim full spoils.
Both Michael Turner and Bradley Johnson came agonisingly close at the game`s death, but their headed efforts failed to hit the target.
All in all, despite it being a relatively decent performance for the Canaries, it was most certainly a telling reminder of the pivotal role played by skipper Grant Holt. The offensive stalwart was sorely missed yesterday and without his tireless work-rate, impressive ball-play and attacking vision, City were relatively anaemic going forward.
As his replacement, Steve Morison put in a languishing, stale performance at the helm of the attack. By all accounts, Morison failed to provide the imperative link between midfield and attack, hamstringing the build-up play. His inability to hold up the ball effectively meant that the midfield trio of Hoolahan, Pilkington and Snodgrass found themselves under added pressure when they found themselves in possession.
Ultimately, yesterday`s result issued a stark reminder of the lack of depth in Norwich`s offensive corps and highlighted the need for investment in January. Hopefully, Hughton can conjure up some magic as he did with his summer signings, and I have every faith that he will.
Whilst the sun may have set on the Canaries` record top-flight run, the result wasn`t all doom and gloom. Results from elsewhere ensured that there`s still plenty of clear blue water between Norwich and the danger zone. City currently sit on 25 points, 5 points clear of 14th and 10 off the bottom three.
But with two very tough home fixtures against Chelsea and Man City on the near horizon, it`s essential that Hughton`s men put in the sort of shifts that initially sparked the historic 10-game run.
One worry is City`s recent defensive record. It`s been six games since a clean sheet, with Norwich conceding 9 goals in the last 4 games in all competitions. What`s more, the need for Norwich to re-discover their defensive solidity takes on an added degree of salience given Chelsea`s 8-0 trouncing of Paul Lambert`s Aston Villa on Sunday.
Looking forward, these fixtures will test the resolve of a side whose very ascendancy from the relegation mire was built upon the pillars of character and determination.
Norwich aren’t out of the woods yet, and it`s crucial that big shifts are put in to get them back on the right track.