Frustration the least of Norwich City boss Chris Hughton’s worries
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Frustration was not the worst sentiment to endure for Norwich City's suffering fan base as they trooped away from Carrow Road.
Frustration hints at hopes dashed. Of a small step forward in the right direction when Michael Turner's fantastically controlled sidefoot finish looked like a giant stride towards Premier League survival.
Frustration suggests City did plenty right on a day when Swansea punished a defensive laxness as rare as the sight of the Canaries plundering a top flight brace.
Desperation, on the other hand, is an altogether more corrosive property. Desperation indicates all hope is lost. At times this contest lurched between both, but when the dust settled Norwich effectively ended the weekend in the same shape they entered it in relation to the bottom three.
That is the only yardstick required to plot a route between the pessimists and the optimists. When Michu smashed Jonathan de Guzman's cut back high into the roof of Lee Camp's net that palpable sense of nervous tension around Carrow Road at kick off gave way to barely concealed anger in certain parts of the stadium. When the overlapping Nathan Dyer exposed fresh frailties in City's rearguard only to drag wide a minute or two later the discontent was audible. Robert Snodgrass' headed goal within five minutes of Michu's was not just a landmark occasion for the Scot on home soil, it had a transformative effect on the collective psyche of all those present.
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Chris Hughton's players tapped into the power source. The timidity of their initial efforts gave way to a willingness to engage on equal terms; not as a submissive opponent for the Swans' ball players to carve tracks towards Camp's goal seemingly at will. City pressed higher up the pitch, denying Michu and his allies copious time and space. Positivity filled the air. Those storm clouds dissipated as Norwich traded passivity for aggressive intent. That one flick of Snodgrass' head injected renewed belief. Little wonder City's laboured start, allied to a groin injury for the luckless Mark Bunn, saw some of the loyalists harbouring grave doubts at Norwich's propensity to respond.
Yet half-time favoured Swansea. It checked Norwich's surging momentum and disrupted the rhythmic flow of a pulsating game between two clubs who routinely produce a combustible mix of goals and drama.
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Michael Laudrup's side began the second period in the ascendant. Wayne Routledge's flick was anticipated by Luke Moore, but Camp had raced from his line to narrow the angle. Sébastien Bassong then needed to divert Routledge's driven cross against Michu. Play was condensed into the wrong part of the pitch, but City responded magnificently again. Those who question Hughton and his tactical approach or his selection policy have absolutely no grounds to probe for character flaws. Snodgrass and Bennett offered advance raiding parties down either flank; a facet of Norwich's game largely absent for swathes of this season with wide players resolutely committed to defensive pressing. Hughton is castigated for apparent inflexibility, but City have been far more proactive in their last two Premier League games as the margin for error receded. At Wigan they lacked the incisive penetration, in their best spells against the Swans they looked like they could create whenever they moved within range of Michel Vorm's goal. Ashley Williams increasingly incurred the wrath of the officials in his attempts to apprehend Kei Kamara. One such misdemeanour proved fatal on the hour mark when Bennett, buoyed by his crucial first half assist for Snodgrass, whipped a deliciously inviting cross to the far post where the sliding Turner produced the sweetest of half-volleys.
Pandemonium replaced the panic for the shortest of interludes. Joyous outpourings have been dispensed in meagre rations for City's home support, but Turner was a fitting catalyst. The anti-hero of the opening weeks is now an indispensible component in Hughton's machinery; and lauded for it by the home fans who felt it might be a breakthrough moment in front of the Barclay.
But this is Norwich; where very little on the arduous journey from League One to Premier League has ever come easy. After the unmarked Michu contrived to head tamely at Camp, Snodgrass escaped detection down the left to carve an enticing centre across Swansea's six-yard line, but the fractional delay in the release was mirrored by Kamara's reluctance to meet the ball and Dwight Tiendalli rescued the visitors. A two-goal cushion with barely 15 minutes left to play and most observers would have backed Hughton's side to prevail. The Capital One Cup winners were stung into a riposte. Camp was forced to tip over Moore's glancing near post flick but the stand-in keeper had no chance from the resulting corner.
City paid a high price for their failure to clear the penalty box when Angel Rangel re-directed Tiendalli's deep cross towards Moore who despatched from close range.
Hughton sent for Grant Holt but on another day and under another referee Norwich's captain will know he could have departed the scene in acrimonious circumstances after his tangle with Chico Flores. The caution for raising his arm into the Spaniard's face was laughable. The foot-high scrape down the centre-back's right shin was not. Holt's game has been forged on muscular intent, but the Norwich skipper is not dirty.
It was the act of a man fresh on the scene and desperate to help. As Laudrup pointed out afterwards, the damage to his defender was temporary. Had Michu not skied over in stoppage time under intense pressure from Russell Martin the pain may have been too much to recover from. City would still have had points in hand on their lowly rivals and games ahead to decide their fate but the psychology of the survival race infests every calculation at this advanced stage of the season.
Norwich are fighting for their futures and even a point in such circumstances at home against a team with nothing materially to play for should not be discounted.