Chris Hughton may have departed, but the brittleness threatening Norwich City’s Premier League status was painfully evident again in a 4-0 defeat on Ryan Giggs’ big managerial audition at Manchester United.
City swept into the Theatre of Dreams well aware of their peripheral role in the dramatic story that thrust the Welsh legend centre stage following David Moyes’ exit. All the focus and attention was firmly on Giggs and lieutenants Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. He arrived pitchside to a tumultuous reception and left some 90 minutes later to no less rapturous applause after braces from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata sank a Norwich outfit that attempted to resist before imploding in graphic fashion.
This was every bit as damaging as the concessions at Aston Villa, Southampton and Swansea since the turn of this year, which ultimately cost Hughton his job and triggered an internal promotion for the likeable Neil Adams.
Norwich’s FA Youth Cup-winning coach has now presided over three defeats since he assumed control, but this cut the deepest. City deserved more at Fulham from a vibrant attack often lacking in a ruthless edge. Against title-challenging Liverpool at Carrow Road the previous weekend, they had recovered from two early setbacks to produce a spirited display that may have earned them a point.
Once Rooney had slotted a penalty after Danny Welbeck tumbled under Steven Whittaker’s close attention, those familiar questions regarding the will to resist and the mental toughness within this group of Norwich players resurfaced, as the England international and Mata punished the visitors’ charitable donations of time and space.
City seem able to go so far at Premier League level but then lack the courage of their convictions and retreat. They can appear organised and resolute and descend into an embarrassing rabble, all in the space of one body of work.
Adams labelled the second goal shortly after the interval as a "killer blow" -- a tacit admission. Perhaps he does not have the personnel to respond to such adversity.
United were far from their best, but they had far too much going forward. Only John Ruddy’s shot-stopping prowess averted a bigger defeat, but a fifth consecutive league loss and results elsewhere have consigned them to the bottom three. Norwich’s manager admitted they cannot rely on assistance from others to survive, and Sunderland have taken control of their own destiny after hammering Cardiff City on Sunday.
Norwich must take points from a trip to Chelsea and Arsenal’s final-day Carrow Road visit or brace for the shock of slipping out of the top flight and undertaking the arduous task to plot a route back through the minefield that is the Championship. Should that fate befall them, many of those who toiled at Old Trafford will opt for pastures new. It will be the supporters who have to face the consequences of the players’ apparent limitations.