Norwich City is struggling to find a winning hand
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's support is engaged in a torturous game of patience as they wait for the re-modelled Canaries to take a great leap forward in the Premier League.
Those loyal fans can seek solace in perception and the evolving nature of City's efforts since the fast-fading memory of an away league win at Stoke. Or they can fret about the reality of clinging onto a clutch of rivals dangling perilously below a dividing line that come next May would consign them to the Championship.
The vocal constituency who demand managerial change as the only way through this perceived malaise need not worry about Chris Hughton's removal. Hughton will have long since departed should they reach that point of no return.
The stakes Norwich play for these days are too precious to risk it all on the whims of fortune and fate. City's top brass will act when they feel Hughton is no longer capable of extracting the optimum from plentiful playing resources.
Cardiff was ultimately another missed opportunity; much like Aston Villa before at Carrow Road or Hull on Humberside earlier this campaign. Hughton and his experienced backroom team know the pressure is mounting. Whether City had embarked on a record transfer outlay last summer or not, the club's Premier League productivity to this point is an unacceptable return.
But those who chart the relative decline to the end of that stirring unbeaten Premier League run of record proportions at the turn of this year miss the point. All that really matters or has any bearing on the relative equation is the here and now.
Since Hughton released Jonny Howson from the defensive strictures which limited his effectiveness from midfield with that thumping match-winner against Stoke in the Potteries, City have produced a string of displays rich in promise, if lacking in tangible progression.
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Norwich's play has been laced with a degree of evolutionary intent. That is a fact to counter-balance those who rightly focus on the starkness of their current points tally or the inability to turn periods of territorial control and possession into goals; a depressing theme re-visited in their latest failure to sweep aside a Bluebirds' outfit inspired by keeper David Marshall.
Leroy Fer's shift will now forever be remembered for the foolish episode deep in stoppage time that so irked Malky Mackay and doubtless those inside his own camp. Fer's aberration may well be excusable on the grounds of the cultural differences he alluded to following his summer switch from the continent. The right outcome was eventually reached in the fractious aftermath, irrespective of the process of elimination followed by referee Mike Jones to diffuse the late flashpoint.
The real shame was it blighted another hugely impressive outing from a gifted young talent. Fer roams central midfield like a force of nature, breaking up attacks and triggering forward motions with an athleticism unparalleled in Hughton's ranks.
Barely a couple of minutes before his decision to roll Ricky van Wolfswinkel's throw into an unguarded net he rose majestically to crash a header against Marshall's body. Either side of the Scot and the power from such close proximity would surely have been enough to dispel the storm clouds that continue to gather.
Marshall was annoyingly obdurate during Norwich's most potent, prolonged spell of pressure as the action ebbed incessantly around the vicinity of Cardiff's penalty area prior to the interval.
Howson unleashed a series of strikes the former Canary batted away with every available part of his body. The parry onto his near post at close quarters from Robert Snodgrass' initial flick brought a fortunate ricochet against the in-rushing Gary Hooper that landed generously in Marshall's grasp.
Hughton and his players can be castigated for their inability to respond to Mackay's half-time surgery performed on an harassed visiting midfield, but Marshall's inspired display was an imponderable the hosts' could not control. Hooper's exit for Johan Elmander was the tipping point that unleashed waves of opprobrium in Hughton's direction. Yet Nathan Redmond's introduction during the same break in play was similarly overlooked.
Therein lies the tension at the heart of City's current difficulties. Hughton needs to find the answer to the Norwich question. The one where the Canaries are defensively resolute and potent in attack. The one where his detractors accuse him of sterility in his approach when supporters applaud the creative licence he appears to have bestowed on the likes of Howson and Fer, with Alex Tettey offering essential protection. The one where Hooper's exit seemingly signals he has robbed his side of their most potent goalscoring weapon when Redmond's arrival in truth sparked another offensive on Marshall's over-worked goal. These are all facets of the same intractable problem. And Hughton will need no reminding of the consequences if he fails to find a solution.