Norwich City’s Premier League fate was not sealed at Stamford Bridge
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
Norwich City’s Premier League fate will not be decided on stirring occasions like this one at Stamford Bridge.
"Norwich have a squad that is better than relegation fodder yet they approach the final week of the season reliant on Sunderland’s capacity to implode, despite the Wearsiders triumphing against both Chelsea and Manchester United away from the north-east in recent weeks."
City’s survival prospects now hinge on Sunderland’s inability to claim any points from two remaining home games against West Brom and Swansea City. Those travelling fans who rightly acclaimed Neil Adams and his squad at the final whistle following an uplifting afternoon of resistance against Jose Mourinho’s Blues must accept in all probability it was the final hurrah.
Norwich’s one point from home and away tussles against relegated rivals Fulham and Cardiff City, the failure to earn anything from playing 10-man Hull City for an hour in the opening month of the campaign; that messy spot-kick episode at home to Aston Villa when Robert Snodgrass pulled rank on Ricky van Wolfswinkel only to spurn the chance to cash in on Norwich’s early dominance. They are all bitter memories that will be re-visited over a long, arduous, uncertain summer should City fail to engineer a great escape.
In isolation, a battling point at Stamford Bridge ranked right up there with the equally robust efforts at home to Manchester City and Tottenham but City’s perilous status demanded an improbable victory.
Norwich had to ride their luck at times as the woodwork and some desperate defending denied the hosts, who upped the ante in the second half after the introductions of Eden Hazard and David Luiz, but they also deserved a first-half penalty when Martin Olsson was trapped in a pincer between Ashley Cole and John Terry, where neither of the Chelsea defenders got any piece of the ball in front of Mark Schwarzer.
Adams led the protests assisted by his irate backroom team, but referee Swarbrick and his officials refused to see what most inside the stadium had witnessed in real-time.
Such is the life of a team in dire straits struggling towards the lower reaches, but City can not cling to a hard luck story. They have sunk below the waterline because of their chronic inability to scale these sort of heights on a regular basis.
Norwich have a squad that is better than relegation fodder yet they approach the final week of the season reliant on Sunderland’s capacity to implode, despite the Wearsiders triumphing against both Chelsea and Manchester United away from the north-east in recent weeks.
Sunderland found that momentum at the optimum moment to haul themselves upwards when anyone who witnessed their laboured efforts at Carrow Road last month would have concurred they appeared a lost cause. Adams’ introduction triggered a positive impact on his troops but there has been a discernible lag in tangible results. This was a line in the sand that needed to be drawn far earlier to give City a fighting chance to escape.
Yet if Snodgrass had managed to slot his counter-attacking chance late on, crafted by Nathan Redmond’s vibrant burst, they would have still sucked both West Brom and the Black Cats into the mix. The Scottish international’s initial touch was all the encouragment Gary Cahill required to conjure a perfectly-timed block to deflect the strike behind. Adams’ face was a portrait of frustration as he turned away from the action momentarily. He knew as we all did that was the big chance.
His predecessor talked often about those fine margins but Norwich have routinely found themselves the wrong side of the equation. Now they must sit and hope and wait for the opportunity to turn Arsenal’s final day visit into a raucous Carrow Road occasion rather than a wake.
Adams had to deflect post-match questions about his reticence to introduce the likes of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper for the frantic finale, but there was little wrong with his approach or his tactical acumen against the much-heralded Mourinho.
Whether the club’s FA Youth Cup winning coach remains in post beyond next week is just one of a myriad of pressing concerns Norwich’s board must address when the dust settles but Adams has attacked the task with bravery and a refreshing honesty. Seb Bassong was back on the bench at Stamford Bridge but had to settle for another watching brief. Snodgrass and Redmond have been deployed centrally in the search for goals and Adams was prepared to stick with van Wolfswinkel when most felt the time had come to explore alternative options.
He, as much as those hard-pressed loyalists who travelled most weeks of this season in receding hope rather than expectation, deserved this result.
There was a wonderful moment in the second half at Stamford Bridge when Adams’ assistant, Mark Robson, stood his ground in a discussion with the brooding Mourinho as they contested one of Swarbrick’s decisions. It told you everything about the belief and the fight Adams has instilled that City refused to take a backward step on or off the pitch. Too often this campaign there had been a passivity and a sense of acceptance when you yearned for aggressive intent.
Adams insisted in his post-match dealings he has a squad who are good enough to stay in the Premier League. Sadly, this performance merely underlined his point, but that will come as scant consolation if the Wearsiders and West Brom contrive to shut the door.