Bridge of sighs as Norwich City fold yet again at Chelsea

The revelations at the end of last week about the increasingly bitter dispute between Norwich City and former manager Paul Lambert provided an entertaining – some might say helpful – diversion from current difficulties on the field.

But less than 48 hours later, the club and their supporters were forced to focus on more immediate concerns once again, as Premier League leaders Chelsea inflicted another heavy defeat on Chris Hughton's team.

While the Blues were probably glad to escape the off-field controversies surrounding John Terry and Ashley Cole for 90 minutes of at times sublime football, City's battle of wills with their ex-boss may, if only for a couple of days, have had the reverse effect of switching the focus from their poorest start to a top-flight season and garnering a bit of support from fans indignant at the apparent effrontery of their one-time hero.

But whichever party is in the right, the sums that the Canaries and Lambert appear to be squabbling over are mere pocket money compared to the riches on offer if they can secure another season in the Premier League.

That remains the prime objective – the only real objective – for City this season, and, sadly, it's a case of so far, not so good.

Hughton is exactly right when he says that the campaign will not be judged on results at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, but he also realises it means beating the teams you need to beat to keep at least three of them below you in the table.

City should have disposed of both Queens Park Rangers and West Ham at Carrow Road, but failed to do so, and if they are to continue to be brushed aside by the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea – Arsenal are next on the agenda – they must start beating a few sides in the bottom half. Villa Park, where the outbreak of hostilities has given the contest added edge, would be the perfect place to start.

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For all of three minutes, more than 3,000 travelling fans might even have wondered if they were about to witness a famous success at Stamford Bridge, but all realistic hope of that was extinguished well before half-time.

Instead, City's third defeat in a row left them with just three points from their first seven matches as they go into the second international break of the season.

The Canaries, showing five changes from the 5-2 defeat by Liverpool, made a dream start when skipper Grant Holt fired them ahead in the 11th minute, a superb finish after defender Leon Barnett nodded Wes Hoolahan's cross into his path.

It took the Blues just three minutes to equalise, however, as Frank Lampard's diagonal ball found Juan Mata, whose backheel set up Branislav Ivanovic to cross from the right, Torres getting above Barnett to score with a firm header, his sixth goal of the season.

Norway international Alex Tettey, making his first Premier League start for City, might have restored their lead but badly misdirected a header from Hoolahan's cross, and midway through the half Lampard punished their slack defending once again.

Torres attempted an overhead kick as Oscar delivered the ball into the penalty area and it broke to Lampard, whose well-struck shot fizzed past the outstretched legs of Jonny Howson and Elliott Bennett.

On the half-hour, it was 3-1 as the hosts scored from a counter-attack from a Norwich corner.

Elliott Bennett's kick was headed clear by Terry and Mata got the better of Hoolahan before setting off on a 60-yard run and slipping the ball sideways, beyond five yellow shirts, for Eden Hazard to sidefoot past 'keeper John Ruddy.

A diving save from Ruddy prevented Oscar grabbing a fourth before the break but, either side of the interval, Holt, giving Terry a difficult afternoon, came close to adding to his tally. He was only narrowly off target with headers, each from crosses by Bradley Johnson.

Thereafter Chelsea generally strolled it, and Ruddy saved from Oscar, Mata and Torres to keep the scoreline respectable until, after 76 minutes, he was beaten for the fourth time. Mata fluked an assist with his heel as Oscar's cross came in from the left, leaving Ivanovic to volley powerfully past the 'keeper, unable to keep the ball out even though he got both hands to the shot.

Terry and Cole – accorded a perverse kind of folk hero status and lauded throughout the match by the home crowd – and their more self-effacing team-mates departed the scene to the strains of 'Blue is the Colour'.

But for City, already 16 points and 18 places adrift of the leaders, and their army of fans, it was definitely not singalong time.