Photo Gallery: Good reasons for Norwich City’s rare fall from grace at Blackburn
Blackburn Rovers 2, Norwich City 0: Difficult as it is to digest, Blackburn wanted this Premier League win more than Norwich City.
That is not a slight on the professionalism of the Canaries; more a recognition of two clubs currently heading in opposite directions.
So rarely can one level that charge at Paul Lambert's men – not only over this third successful season, but his entire reign – you feel compelled to qualify any criticism of a lacklustre display.
Steve Kean has had far more uncomfortable afternoons than his fellow Scot. This one was made no easier by the actions of a hardcore of disaffected Blackburn supporters.
Kean was barracked when his side were level; and when they were in front, and towards the end.
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The only concerted, unifying chants heard swirling around the home of this former Premier League winner were those in support of the removal of Rovers' Indian-based owners and the announcement of Gael Givet's man-of-the-match award. Kean had deemed Givet was not in 'the right frame of mind' for the previous week's mauling at Swansea.
The deep fractures exist not only on the Ewood Park terraces – circumstantial evidence suggests all is not well inside a dressing room that lost both Chris Samba and Brett Emerton midway through the campaign. Samba presumably felt he was not in the right frame of mind for a relegation battle.
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The real wonder from routine periods of upheaval is that Rovers can maintain a fight for Premier League survival. Even with a merited victory over the Canaries, that battle looks a forlorn one. Remaining games at a rapidly disinterested Tottenham and a cup-obsessed Chelsea will prove hellishly difficult assignments. Wigan on home turf is one for the strong of heart.
Rovers' motivation was clear before kick-off; anything less than a win and a puncher's chance was their only remaining salvation. Norwich's, on the face of it, appeared less obvious. A point would have given them the mathematical comfort of safety the vast majority of their performances have warranted.
Norwich's rise and rise has been foundered on a voracious work ethic; a sense the sum of the parts always matters much more than those of the individual. That requires an inherent honesty at its core. Players are dipped in and out of the starting line up, but there is none of the destabilising public recriminations that seem to afflict other rivals.
Lambert and his players never look for excuses. When City's central defensive stocks were badly depleted in the opening months, Russell Martin moved inside to partner Leon Barnett. When the Canaries were mauled at the Etihad by Roberto Mancini's venomous frontline little mention was made of the makeshift glue at the heart of the City backline. Two ready-made excuses exist to feasibly explain away this off day in Lancashire.
The Premier League is a gruelling, unforgiving place in which to operate. Playing flat out for a newly-promoted club must take a toll; both mentally and physically.
When you run at full pelt to keep up, little wonder the rest stand a chance whenever you pause for breath. The other mitigating plea emanates from the residual, unquantifiable damage inflicted to confidence levels from a second pummelling of this season against Manchester City.
The financial disparity between the clubs suggests Norwich have no right to be on the same pitch. For three-quarters of their latest meeting, those respective balance sheets were a statistical quirk to another fearless Canaries' display.
To label the last 20 minutes a collapse would be too strong; but Norwich's attacking adventure exposed a defensive brittleness only the Blues have managed to exploit this season.
That must leave a mark. For all the remarkable displays at Anfield, Goodison Park, White Hart Lane –even Old Trafford to a large extent – to lose in such emphatic fashion has to shake self-belief; to ask questions of players who rightly can now class themselves Premier League footballers.
Such a case for the defence, however, falls flat on the evidence of the opening 30-odd minutes at Ewood Park. City looked neither tired nor cowed by their efforts over the long and short haul as they set about a Blackburn unsure of their footing.
Andrew Surman and Elliott Bennett saw plenty of the ball. Jonny Howson was the fulcrum of what appeared in the early stages another assured City midfield display. Wes Hoolahan was able to reprise his Everton role; probing for any signs of distress in and around Rovers' central defence. Grant Holt and James Vaughan looked to be the main beneficiaries. Holt headed Surman's cross off-target under pressure.
Paul Robinson reacted well to a snapshot from the captain. Surman expertly retrieved Elliott Bennett's deep cross. Vaughan shaped to drill with his left, missed and the ball ricocheted away off his standing right leg. You could perhaps forgive a man who can measure his Premier League contribution in minutes not matches. Injury is the inherent danger lurking at the back of any professional's mind, but Vaughan has been forced to confront the loneliness more than most; the surgery, the endless hour upon hour of rehabilitation.
Vaughan alongside Holt may well have been what Lambert had in mind when he first recruited the ex-Everton striker. A fusion of aerial strength and pace, muscle and guile. A union of predatory intent. The initial signs were encouraging.
Blackburn's threat was sporadic. But there was no less latent menace in the first stirrings from Junior Hoilett and Yakubu. John Ruddy parried from Hoilett, Ryan Bennett was first on the scene to clear. Mauro Formica expertly controlled a raking crossfield ball from David Dunn only to hit Adam Drury.
There were signs of life in the strugglers, but this was no all out assault to the sound of the trumpets. That was left to the home fans congregated in the Darwen End who taunted Kean.
Howson was invited to advance unchecked before hammering a strike Robinson acrobatically tipped over. City looked vibrant, full of attacking vigour. That the goal should arrive at the other end was bad enough. For it to be self-inflicted will have had Lambert seething. Hoilett and Yakubu raided down Norwich's right before Morten Gamst Pedersen checked inside and drifted a cross over Norwich's entire defence for the unmarked Formica to volley past Ruddy.
Students of history will need no reminding it bore more than a passing resemblance to the now departed Samba's goal in October's corresponding fixture at Carrow Road, when he was left unattended at the far post to slot from close range. Maybe Rovers had detected a weakness of their own – given the frequency they looked to hit both the channels and Norwich's far post.
There was also more than an echo to the second, decisive foray shortly after the interval. Hoilett veered inside Martin to guide a right-foot shot beyond Ruddy's reach. The 21-year-old had proved just as deadly in Norfolk. Hoilett is a hot property; talented and out-of-contract in the summer. There will be no shortage of takers, with Tottenham reportedly at the head of the queue of admirers.
But the Canadian-born frontman is not a unique commodity. Every club in the Premier League has players who can hurt the Canaries. Wigan's Victor Moses has proved another thorn. Wolves' Championship fate was sealed yesterday against Manchester City, yet the likes of Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis can cause problems for any opponent down either flank when they are in the mood.
That is what makes Norwich's achievement in lasting the distance all the greater; to have successfully navigated nigh on ten months of weekly combat with their Premier League status intact.
You can castigate the Canaries for their weak response to adversity on this occasion. Bar the odd skirmish, Robinson's goal remained intact with few alarms.
Aaron Wilbraham's introduction certainly added a greater sense of urgency. Robinson's low push around his near post from the striker's swivelling effort was as near as Norwich got to setting up the sort of finish that has become their stock in trade. None more so than when Holt's penalty denied Rovers all three points back in October.
But, in truth, the good days have far outnumbered the bad. That is not always the case. Just ask Blackburn.