Dreaming of a happy ending

STEVE GEDGE Once or twice (Crystal Palace, Southend) was unfortunate, the third time (Hull) was downright careless, but the fourth occasion of conceding a late, late goal….

STEVE GEDGE

Once or twice (Crystal Palace, Southend) was unfortunate, the third time (Hull) was downright careless, but the fourth occasion of conceding a late, late goal….well, words almost failed me.

In other circumstances a 2-2 draw at Wolves would have been considered a very good result: not least for actually getting a result at Molineux as well as putting an end to the recent run of sorry defeats. And that's before you consider the quality of the goals.

But because of the rash of letting in 90th-minute goals, you came away from Molineux seeing this as two points dropped with precious few positives to be consoled by.


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How many more times is this going to happen? Not that there were that many away fans - more on that later - but there were enough to be able to have heard the collective groan when the announcement of four minutes of stoppage time was made. There was a certain inevitability about Jody Craddock's equaliser. Yet again City sat back, job seemingly done, with substitutions to match, and paid the price.

That recent slump wouldn't have mattered quite so much if the Canaries could have won at Southend or Wolves. But instead you can now all but write off the league campaign. City need to win 15 of their final 22 games just to reach 75 points - and even that might not be enough to guarantee a top six place.

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With those extra seven dropped points City would have been sitting pretty in joint seventh position - a situation that would have seemed impossible to imagine back at the start of October.

But since the preparations for the 2007/8 season start now, let's try to accentuate the positives.

For starters, City began very brightly. There was none of the hesitancy of the first 20 minutes at Southampton the week before; instead the Canaries took the game right to Wolves from the start.

There have been some games of late where you could almost see City lose at Tamworth if they adopted the same couldn't-care-less attitude. At Molineux, however, they displayed a professional approach which will have given watching Tamworth manager Mark Cooper plenty to think about.

It wasn't a game of many City chances, but what did come their way were made to count. Personally I don't really care what else Robert Earnshaw does during a game, he's there to get goals, so scoring twice and also hitting the bar to me adds up to a pretty worthwhile contribution to the afternoon.

His early departure, it's fair to say, did not go down too well with elements of the away support.

I'll say one thing for Peter Grant - he's not afraid to make some 'different' substitutions, although I did come away on Saturday thinking that Earnshaw's early exit probably backfired on the Canaries, as they never looked the same up front after he had gone and it was also a signal to Wolves that they thought the game was over.

It's hard to see Earnshaw going in January - there aren't that many clubs at the bottom of the Premiership or the top of the Championship who are anywhere near certain of their status for next season. So why sign for Sheffield United, say, or Derby now when you could still quite easily be playing in the Championship next season. But what happens in the summer, well that could be a different matter.

Sixteen goals in 24 games for a stuttering team, not to mention the sheer quality of his second strike at Wolves, it's impossible to think that the phone calls won't come in over the summer. Norwich can't afford to be without him next season; it's as simple as that.

I can't finish without mentioning the support on Saturday. Those who did travel to Molineux were excellent in their backing; it's just that there weren't too many of them.

Recent club comments in the EDP about critical message board posters or newspaper columnists are all very well, but it's plain that a significant number of ordinary fans are voting with their feet at the way things have gone of late by simply being more selective in what away games they travel to.

This was plain to see on Saturday when Wolves cut back the allocated space to Canary fans from the whole of the length-side lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand to a small area behind a goal in the Jack Harris Stand.

We'll ignore the January 1 fixture because there's plenty of people who quite rightly don't want to give Crystal Palace 30 of their hard earned pounds to have to suffer the Selhurst Park experience again.

But the fact that Norwich have been struggling to dispose of a small allocation for Tamworth is not encouraging. Yes, it's live on terrestrial television and is an early kick-off just after an expensive time of the year. But it's only three seasons ago that the Canaries took almost 4,500 fans to an early-evening Easter Monday Sky-televised visit to Reading. (In other words, five times the number of tickets City have received for Tamworth).

I look forward to the day when such impressive support returns and am also broadly pleased with what Peter Grant has done so far, the odd substitution apart. But until he has the chance to make changes I'm afraid that there will be those who look backwards, rather than forwards, and question elements of a side that simply can't kill off games.

Since Molineux holds such a special place in City's recent history, I want to look forward to seeing what Grant can achieve there next season.

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