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Mar 30, 2014

Hughton’s mask close to slipping

Chris Hughton is universally regarded as one of the most mild-mannered members of his profession. However, that mask appeared close to slipping in the aftermath of a 3-0 Premier League defeat at Swansea City that sucked them back into the relegation mix.

One step forward at fortress Carrow Road is countered by paltry offerings on the road. A sixth consecutive away defeat in the league in 2014 was always on the cards the moment Jonathan de Guzman lashed past John Ruddy. His second followed before the interval and Wayne Routledge sealed a win at the Liberty Stadium that eased the Swans’ own fears of being embroiled in the survival struggle.

The Canaries could take no such succour from another futile exercise where Norwich's players again appeared sorry for themselves and the manager incapable of altering the inevitable outcome.

City's boss made two changes at half-time and admitted he would have made more such was his anger at what he watched unfold in opening period.

Norwich briefly threatened a riposte seconds after the interval when Ashley Williams hacked Robert Snodgrass’ half-volley off his own line and Ricky van Wolfswinkel tamely headed at Michel Vorm, but it was the final hurrah rather than the type of rally those hard-pressed away followers crave.

At Southampton last time out when they shipped four goals, Hughton and his players were vocally berated by pockets of the travelling support. In deepest Wales, anger was replaced by waves of disinterest and resignation as many opted to head for the exits long before the last rites.

Norwich remain six points clear of the current bottom three but West Brom’s visit to Carrow Road this coming weekend now assumes epic proportions. The script is depressingly familiar. City appear serially incapable of easing their passage to a fourth consecutive season of Premier League football and all the financial benefits that accrue from membership of such an exclusive clique.

Norwich’s default setting is backs-against-the-wall efforts when even a meagre seam of consistency in their results would have extricated themselves from the same fraught battle they had to endure last season.

City face West Brom and then a trip to Fulham before a daunting finale against many of the leading principals for title glory and European qualification. Hughton was right to narrow the focus again in his post-match media briefing. It really is all about what Norwich muster rather than relying on slips from their nearest rivals and that productivity will have to come at Carrow Road.