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Apr 20, 2014

Points, not plaudits, are needed in Norwich's miracle bid

Norwich City continue to tantalise and tease, but they remain embroiled in a Premier League survival scrap after a pulsating 3-2 defeat to title favourite Liverpool.

The most telling response on an afternoon of tension and contrasting emotions at Carrow Road came from the home fans who applauded their side’s brave efforts at the final whistle. Such warmth was in sharp contrast to the bile and ugly scenes last time out after defeat to West Brom in Norfolk that triggered Chris Hughton’s exit and an internal promotion for academy coach Neil Adams. The new man has now presided over two defeats, but there was again enough to suggest all is not lost.

The excellent Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez struck inside 12 minutes. Gary Hooper replied just before the hour mark before Sterling profited from Bradley Johnson’s indecision. Robert Snodgrass’ glancing flick revived hopes of a famous comeback, but it was the Reds who prevailed for an 11th straight topflight win that moved them five points clear of Chelsea.

- Report: Norwich 2-3 Liverpool - McNally: Hughton sacking was fair

There was much to comfort Canaries supporters as they headed home, but the stark reality is City lost ground on their direct rivals over another fraught weekend of Premier League action. Sunderland’s win at Chelsea and Cardiff’s battling point at home to Stoke has reduced any margin for error that existed. Norwich now travel to Manchester United and Stamford Bridge before Arsenal’s final day visit. It looks every bit as daunting a passage to safety as most feared when the fixtures broke last summer.

The prevailing wisdom suggested Norwich’s survival would have to be guaranteed before a poisonous finale. Defeat to West Brom followed by another equally damaging reverse at Fulham has eradicated that prospect. Norwich, in all probability, must claim positive results from two of those final three matches against the very best.

Adams was right in his postmatch assertions when he reiterated it is all about points now. This was another encouraging statement and a fresh positive episode after the downward spiral that characterised the end of Hughton’s reign, but it is still not the currency of choice.

Critics may point to the fact that City left themselves far too much to do after allowing the Reds to profit from early indecision. Even Hooper’s lifeline was nullified by Johnson’s errant pass, although the nature of Sterling’s deflected finish, which looped up over the stranded John Ruddy, arguably encapsulated the fortunes of two clubs moving rapidly in opposite directions.

It was a cruel blow, but this was no hard luck story. Norwich find themselves in such a predicament because over the duration they have squandered numerous chances for tangible progress. Now they are running out of matches, and it is not enough to rely on stumbles from their direct opponents. They will have to take control of their own destiny. To upset the odds, they must harness the belief and aggressive intent that forced Liverpool to retreat from their attacking ethos. That is what Adams must salvage from another Premier League defeat.