Norwich City still masters of their own destiny
SWANSEA CITY 3, NORWICH CITY 0: The temptation to view Norwich's crushing defeat in fatalistic fashion should be resisted.
Short-termism infects football, as it does in life generally. Seven days earlier, Paul Lambert's side swept aside Scunthorpe with a display of power and precision rich in Premier League intent. The Canaries advanced just at the moment rivals faltered. The euphoria of a landmark win serving to mask the reality hard yards lay ahead.
Grant Holt was feted for plundering his second hat-trick of the campaign against the Iron. An achievement perhaps even more note-worthy given the strugglers' coupon-busting success over champions-elect QPR at the weekend.
The skipper and Simeon Jackson embraced at full-time after an honourable high score draw in their own personal Carrow Road duel.
On Saturday evening in south Wales, Holt needed the consoling arm of his manager to diffuse a potential flashpoint on the final whistle involving home keeper Dorus De Vries.
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Clearly a hangover from the Dutchman's 'dying swan' act designed to draw the sting from Norwich's gathering second half onslaught.
Holt knows better than anyone he spurned two excellent openings seconds into each half to give Norwich a tangible foothold from which to attack Swansea.
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De Vries paddled away his follow up from Dani Pacheco in the first attacking foray of a contest latent with expectation fuelled by two sets of passionate fans bathing in Spring sunshine.
Norwich's number nine should have given De Vries no chance on the restart when his unnerving aerial accuracy deserted City's unmarked captain stationed inside the six-yard box.
Holt stood transfixed for a split second. Staring at the mass of green and yellow behind the goal. Scarcely able to believe what had transpired. Hero to villain in the space of a week. Except sporting reality should never be packaged in contrite soundbites.
Holt is currently the third top scorer in the Championship. A talismanic figure who has packed more into his 21-month tour of Norfolk duty than most of his predecessors.
A centrifugal force around which has coalesced a group of young men who swept all before them in League One and deserves their billing as genuine promotion candidates on this season's efforts.
Holt had a poor day at the office. But he wasn't alone. Norwich looked collectively off the pace prior to the interval.
Fabio Borini's free-kick appeared to float almost in slow motion on its arc past John Ruddy's outstretched grasp into the top right-hand corner. A moment of footballing art. A piece of individual brilliance.
The Chelsea starlet wheeled away before being mobbed by his team mates after lighting the white touch paper.
It was the catalyst for everything else that followed. The Italian plays with a maturity far beyond his years. Always on the move. Always with a purpose in mind. Borini was the fulcrum of Swansea's best work as he dropped intuitively into the pockets of space between Norwich's midfield and central defence.
City's own Latin influence Dani Pacheco has similar pedigree. Schooled at a Premier League institution, loaned out to complete his education at a Championship finishing school.
Pacheco was afforded none of the wide-open acres left by the Iron's punch-drunk defence.
Swansea pressed from the front, denying Norwich space and time on the ball. It was a collective, suffocating full-court press. Norwich probed laterally. Tried to unpick the seams of a blanket defence which launched rapier counters down the flanks. Angel Rangel's bedroom walls must have been adorned with the great Brazilian exponent of his craft, Cafu. Such was his spirit of adventure.
One felt for Marc Tierney who too often during that anaemic first period had to fend for himself with little defensive protection afforded by Andrew Surman.
Norwich had been warned prior to Ruddy beating away Rangel's initial lash at the end of another buccaneering run. The danger appeared to have receded when Nathan Dyer was unable to contort his body as the ball spat up off Ruddy's paws only for Mark Gower to unleash a bullet of a volley that bent and deviated like a Roberto Carlos special.
It was a microcosm of the balance of power to that point.
Swansea proactive. Norwich reactive. Brendan Rodgers' side quicker in speed of thought and action – underpinned by the desperation of a team four points in arrears at kick off.
The hosts' latent attacking prowess in their own backyard had already proved too much for Reading, Leeds and Nottingham Forest since the turn of this year.
Lambert's side were in decent company as they struggled to contain each fresh foray.
Ruddy had to dive bravely at Borini's feet. Zak Whitbread's exquisitely-timed last ditch tackle averted another potential crisis. De Vries was largely a spectator after his brief interlude in the opening stages.
Norwich improved. Considerably. Holt's headed miss was the game's defining moment. The Canaries continued to push forward.
Belief is never an issue for a team whose raison d'etre this season is the late, late show. Alas, minus the impish creativity of Wes Hoolahan the well was dry.
Norwich's Championship journey to this point had afforded them a degree of insurance. Lambert and his side need to cash in the policy later this week.
Draw at Watford tomorrow night and in all probability the Canaries' promotion fate is out of their own hands.
Lambert cut a frustrated figure in the technical area at the Liberty Stadium.
This result was not in the script. Henri Lansbury's heavy intricate pass late on when a shot might have sufficed triggered a pirouette from his manager towards the dug out.
It was as if the Scot could not bare to look anymore.
The frustrations and stresses which seem the norm for mere managerial mortals have been largely absent from Lambert's Norwich tenure. City's boss exuded calm assurance in his post-match media briefing. The pain was still fresh but he knows the DNA of his players.
The Canaries' last miserable trip to the Principality, when they lost 3-1 at Cardiff in October, was the precursor to an unbeaten six match league run.
Swansea must be a blip. An understandable stumble at one of the Championship's toughest outposts.
Replicate that run again over similar course and distance in the six remaining games and those green and yellow silks carried to Grand National glory by Ballabriggs at Aintree can still be the dominant colours in another victory parade.