Norwich club captain Russell Martin hailed the special relationship between the players and fans prior to West Brom’s Premier League visit, but it felt more like cold war had set in at Carrow Road after the Baggies' 1-0 win on Saturday.
Morgan Amalfitano’s 16th-minute strike past John Ruddy boosted Albion’s own survival chances and sucked Chris Hughton’s squad into even greater danger. The magnitude of the defeat triggered a furious reaction from sections of the home support on the final whistle. Ruddy himself had to be ushered away from a confrontation with a frustrated supporter after leaving the field of play to remonstrate with the offender.
Martin revealed afterwards he was verbally abused on his return to the home changing rooms, whilst Hughton was struck by one of the 24,000 banners produced to whip up a ferocious atmosphere designed to overwhelm Pepe Mel’s side in the same way as they had sunk Sunderland last time out.
Hughton insisted the stray banner had not been intended to hit him as they rained onto the pitch, but there was no such mitigation behind the audible calls for his departure. Hughton’s own future has been a serial sub-plot for most of a season where City have managed to remain aloof from the bottom three, but the helplessness was palpable in the aftermath of Albion's victory.
The Norwich manager was a picture of dejection when he emerged for his postmatch media briefing, delayed he insisted due to a prolonged post-mortem with his shattered players rather than any urgent dialogue with the top brass.
Hughton’s brief has always been a simple one; keep the club in the Premier League for a fourth consecutive season. That record transfer outlay last summer was designed to raise expectations and embark on an evolutionary period of growth towards a sustainable top flight future. Right now, such lofty ambitions are in cold storage. It is all about the here and now for both Hughton and Norwich’s own short-term prospects.
City face a wretchedly fraught trip to Fulham this coming weekend with a five-point margin over the Cottagers that scarcely looks big enough to keep Felix Magath’s side at bay over the run-in. Norwich also face title-challenging duo Liverpool and Chelsea plus a trip to Manchester United and a finale against Arsenal, who may well require points to secure another Champions League place.
It is a daunting prospect, but as Hughton rightly surmised, it is a perilous situation all of their own making. Ben Foster made excellent stops to claw out Johan Elmander’s diving header and tip Robert Snodgrass’ free kick onto his crossbar. Gary Hooper also slammed the woodwork but City’s productivity was far too sparse on a day when they abdicated another chance to control their own destiny. There was an inescapable sense at the final whistle of a season careering out of control, and only Hughton and his players can halt the decline.