Rollercoaster season dips again
CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City 1, West Brom 2: If you ever get tired of Norfolk being flat, take a trip to a Norwich City match - and watch a team who provide more ups and downs than the Pyrenees.
Norwich City 1, West Brom 2: If you ever get tired of Norfolk being flat, take a trip to a Norwich City match - and watch a team who provide more ups and downs than the Pyrenees.
After a truly terrible performance at Colchester, City seemed to have put it right when they bounced back with a quality win at Hull on Friday. It was a bit like the win at West Brom in November which was followed by a thumping at Ipswich - and a few others too. You're up one week, down the next. They're like the footballing equivalent of a knitting pattern at times - win one lose one, win one lose one, a trap they have been guilty of falling into with embarrassing regularity this season. Just when you think it's safe to start pushing out your chest and singing their praises, they go and turn in a stinker and leave you with egg on your face.
The one thing they have done under Peter Grant is lift their game against the top sides: a double over Birmingham, a win at West Brom and at then-leaders Cardiff as well as a success over Sunderland. Of the top five sides going into yesterday's game, the only team City hadn't beaten this season are Derby.
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All of which suggests that in front of a full house at Carrow Road against a side well and truly thumped at home by Stoke on Saturday and missing key players through illness and injury, City would have followed up Friday's win by standing toe to toe with a team right in the play-off mix. It was a matter of pride, because many a City fan will tell you City should be on a par with teams like West Brom.
Except that City were up to their usual tricks, following a high with a low, a peak with a trough - a win with a defeat.
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The record books will show that Diomansy Kamara scored the winner in time added on, but no one should read that as a Baggies smash and grab raid, a late kick in the teeth for Grant's team. West Brom were well worth this win and the only real surprise about the goal was that it took so long in coming.
Perhaps West Brom are guilty of being a little over-elaborate at times, perhaps they lack a final edge that, dare one suggest, Robert Earnshaw could give them in the penalty area. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
And if they are to secure a play-off spot or better, they will need to concentrate a little better than they did after the winning goal went in - a lenient referee and a brilliant save by Dean Kiely guaranteed them all three points. Anything else would have been a travesty.
So while Tony Mowbray continues to plot a course to the play-offs and, possibly, beyond, Grant goes back to the drawing board, wondering just why a group of individuals who seem to be world-beaters in training, suddenly go missing when it matters. Should West Brom be in the Championship next season, Mowbray could get away with tinkering here and there and still have a good chance in a year's time. Grant needs a much larger piece of paper for his shopping list.
It's no coincidence that his biggest decision yesterday was whether or not to start Dion Dublin: in the end he chose to drop his influential striker to the bench and reinstate Chris Martin - the only change from the team that won at Hull.
But West Brom are as far removed from Hull as their league positions would indicate. Even with Jason Koumas on the bench because of a knock and Kamara getting off his sick bed to play, West Brom gave City 15 minutes to impress the home fans, and then set about dismantling all that work with an arrogance which says “we don't want to be in this league”.
They passed it cleanly, crisply, accurately. As soon as a yellow shirt took possession they were challenging. And when they won possession they forced City to turn on their heels and catch them if they could.
Kamara's shooting boots were a little off but he saw far too much of the ball, with Zoltan Gera on the right, and Darren Carter and Robert Koran in the middle, almost force feeding him a supply of neat passes.
Carter hit the woodwork on 20 minutes while Koren did the same 10 minutes later as City lived dangerously. Luckily for City, the only redeeming feature of the last half hour of the opening stanza was that their defence held firm, forcing West Brom into shots from outside the area.
Just as City loomed like escaping into the dressing rooms unharmed, down went Youssef Safri, clutching his left hamstring - an injury that could have a major bearing on City's fortunes over the remaining five matches.
Soon after the interval Adam Drury went down in a heap after an aerial challenge with Gera, at the cost of a tooth, and City began to look sorry for themselves. But just when it looked like the Baggies might go for the throat, City went ahead - Drury crossing from the left and Dickson Etuhu charging into the area unmarked to head home from 12 yards for his second goal of the holiday weekend.
The volume increased and the Baggies wobbled like a boxer caught with a right hook on the chin. Except their collective chin was made of rock, not glass, and having shaken off the effects of the goal, they set about re-establishing their rights of supremacy.
It took a while, but they regrouped and prevented City from building up a head of steam. On came Koumas for Carter and within minutes it was all square - thanks to defender Sam Sodje, on loan from Reading. He met Jonathan Greening's corner with a header that Fotheringham cleared off the line- only for Sodje to volley home in style.
Sodje could have had a second two minutes from time when he headed Greening's corner goalwards - only to see Fotheringham again on the line, this time booting the ball to safety.
Koumas' presence had clearly galvanised West Brom, and worried the life out of City and it was no surprise that he played a part in the winner, his blocked shot picked up by Richard Chaplow who passed it to Gera on the right edge of the area. The Hungarian crossed it first time and Kamara was there to stoop and head home.
His celebrations earned him a booking, but it was a small price to pay for a goal which could prove so valuable come May.
City had claims for a penalty waved away when Dublin collided with Sodje and Kiely pulled off a cracking save down to his right to deny the City striker in the remaining time added on, but even the great man might have been embarrassed had he been responsible for an equaliser.