All hope is not lost for Norwich City
07:45 21 April 2014
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After the applause came the crushing realisation Norwich City’s brave stand against the Premier League champions-elect had done nothing to alleviate their own suffering.
The Canaries’ robust efforts to try and repel the best attacking side in the country were thunderously received at the final whistle by a home support who had berated the same set of players last time out at Carrow Road against West Brom.
One can scarcely believe the seismic mood shift during the intervening period.
Norwich were bold and fearless against the Reds when they had been weak and timid against the Baggies. City’s forward play was laboured and predictable in their failure to break down a well-drilled Albion, yet here they demonstrated a collective commitment to attack with width and genuine thrust. If the ugly reaction in the immediate aftermath of that damaging West Brom defeat was the tipping point in a downward spiral, the response since both at Craven Cottage and on home soil has been invigorating.
Neil Adams deserves huge credit for helping repair that fracture and injecting a positive intent into a squad who were shuffling towards the abyss. Norwich may still lose the fight for survival but they show no signs of going quietly on the evidence of Adams’ first two matches in charge. Those tangible gains remain elusive. City’s profligacy was their undoing at Fulham. Defensive frailties proved fatal against Brendan Rodgers’ slick side.
Raheem Sterling’s opening strike was a wonderful piece of technique but he swerved around Bradley Johnson with the dismissive arrogance of youth and a precocious talent. Luis Suarez inevitably left his imprint on proceedings minutes later, but Michael Turner was almost mesmerised by the Uruguayan’s subtle movement inside the Norwich area as he broke free of the central defender’s close attentions to slot Sterling’s inviting cross.
The Canaries’ early sluggishness was ruthlessly exploited by a club who look ready to embrace history. Adams’ admission of admonishments inside the home dressing room at the interval acknowledged that fact. City had carried a sporadic threat in the opening period but it was hard not to shake the belief Liverpool were toying with their prey; content to sit on a two-goal lead and look to raid on the counter. John Ruddy foiled Joe Allen when the former Swansea man was left unattended. Philippe Coutinho curled wide after a flowing counter triggered by the excellent Martin Skrtel deep inside his own area.
But Gary Hooper’s close range finish 10 minutes after the restart shook the status quo. Liverpool appeared vulnerable when Simon Mignolet’s error in misjudging Steven Whittaker’s cross was bravely punished by Bradley Johnson’s towering leap.
How cruel the City midfielder will remember his shift more for the errant pass Sterling despatched via his deflection which looped up and over the stranded Ruddy. There were shades of a similar concession at Manchester City earlier this season in what turned into a humiliating rout. That fear of another similarly poisonous end to proceedings briefly surfaced again. Norwich had responded once but twice was pushing the bounds of probability even on a weekend when Sunderland proved just what is possible when the pressure and tension unites the top and the very bottom.
Suarez dragged wide after checking inside two Norwich players, Sterling continued to roam freely but that positive intent that has defined Adams’ short tenure so far brought a home reply. Snodgrass was denied by Mignolet from 20 yards but the Scottish international majestically rose above the inexperienced Jon Flanagan to despatch Martin Olsson’s cross.
The force was with Norwich. Liverpool looked increasingly inhibited. Rodgers sent for extra ballast in the shape of Daniel Agger. Adams turned to Josh Murphy and Ricky van Wolfswinkel and it was the Dutchman who could have punished the Reds when he rose unmarked but headed at Mignolet from Nathan Redmond’s teasing cross.
It was more frustration for a striker who had brilliantly converted a far more difficult aerial test against Everton way back on an opening day of limitless possibilities.
That hope and optimism has long since receded. Now it is angst and worry as the games run out and the rivals loom ever closer into view. Liverpool was the first of four daunting tests against the elite, but if nothing else a valiant defeat should serve as a salutary reminder this is about Norwich now and not the illustrious company that stands between them and safety.
After the initial skirmishes there was no trace of any inferiority complex, but in the final analysis Adams’ men simply left themselves too much to do to halt a side on a relentless pursuit of a first league title in 24 years.
Norwich need a foothold, a bridgehead like Sunderland found at Stamford Bridge and on that measure this was another failure in a growing list. Yet there was enough in a courageous offering to retain a sense that all is not lost.