Norwich going through the motions

Posted by Paddy Davitt

John Ruddy GettyImagesJohn Ruddy fails to stop the free kick from finding the net.

The manner of Norwich City’s complicity in their 2-0 Premier League defeat to Everton will be a major concern to Chris Hughton.

Gareth Barry’s stunning goal -- the 50th topflight effort of his career -- and Kevin Mirallas’ sharp free kick secured a routine win for the Toffees many would have predicted, but that should not excuse the limpness of the Canaries’ labours.

City’s squad is in a survival scrap, but there was none of the fighting spirit and character-forming resistance shown so recently in league victory at West Brom or in earning battling points at Sunderland and Crystal Palace.

Defeat to a vibrant Everton by itself should not be a cause for alarm, but Roberto Martinez’s men went through the motions for the first 70 minutes before the withdrawal of creative linchpins Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar offered belated encouragement to Norwich. Robert Snodgrass grazed a post with a close-range header, Bradley Johnson brushed Tim Howard’s side netting from the same distance that Barry lashed a first-half opener past a sprawling John Ruddy, and Ricky van Wolfswinkel endured another afternoon of frustration, but a vastly improved final quarter could not mask the abdication of responsibility that went before.

Hull City’s Premier League visit next weekend now assumes epic proportions. It is hardly an exaggeration to state that a negative result in front of their own support at Carrow Road could unleash an unwanted chain of events.

Hughton has so far survived the swirling currents that have claimed many of his managerial contemporaries, as Norwich have dredged a performance when they desperately needed one. West Ham were swamped by a second-half salvo that erased the memory of an anemic opening 45 minutes when the Hammers were full value for their slender 1-0 interval lead. Palace were beaten by one swing of Gary Hooper’s right leg, but the Tigers’ pending trip to Norfolk marks another watershed moment.

City’s collective efforts on Merseyside hardly inspire confidence. They also have to navigate the not inconsiderable distraction of a midweek FA Cup replay at Fulham, which can only hinder both clubs’ Premier League preparations.

Ruddy was not required to be at his shot-stopping best against his former employer, but that was largely because Everton could toy with their prey safe in the knowledge Norwich carried only a sporadic threat. Hooper wasted their best chance after expertly killing Steven Whittaker’s diagonal ball, but a second heavy touch was all the incentive Howard required to dive at his feet.

Barry’s freedom to vacate his holding berth to advance unchecked to the edge of the Canaries’ penalty area before rifling past Ruddy was illustrative of the one-sided dynamic for the majority.

Norwich were similarly subservient at Tottenham and Newcastle, but recent away assignments had suggested they were now a competitive commodity on the road. This was a regressive step, and the manager and his players now have little or no margin for error when they bid to overcome the Tigers.

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