This was going to be a pretty easy - if depressing - match report to write at half-time, but what to make of it now that it's over? Perhaps the appropriate cliche is that goals change games. As we moved towards the break it was a case of for crying out loud if we can get somehow back in only one down when it could so easily have been more at least there's a chance of regrouping, and we let in another. At the start of the second a third for Norwich and complete embarrassment would have been on the cards, but you just never know; one back and the game changes. We get one back, somehow we draw level, and Norwich are left shaking their heads in disbelief, having slipped too far into the comfort zone and risking throwing away points that were theirs for the taking. But we didn't have it in us to go on and win the game (perhaps if we'd been attacking the Covered End in the second half there would have been that extra momentum), or to see it out, and ended up coughing up another chance for their replacement forward to nod home.
Perhaps stick to the facts as I remember them and see if it makes sense at the end. We lined up with a return to the assumed first-choice defence, with Bikey-Amougou and Wiggins returning. Jackson was fit enough to start alongside Buyens in central midfield, with Cousins and Berg Gudmundsson either side, with the returning Bulot given a rare start to play sort of in the hole/sort of up front with Vetokele, with Watt dropping back to the bench and Church, having started on Saturday, left out of the picture. It meant five changes from the Saturday line-up and a formation which, with only one outright forward, put something of an emphasis on not conceding first.
We were bright enough in the opening stages without looking threatening, but before long Norwich got into their stride and began to control possession and alarming gaps at the back started to appear. We had a warning when a ball across from their right side suddenly saw Solly outnumbered four-to-one, only for the opportunity to be squandered. That proved to be only a temporary reprieve as after about 15 minutes Solly was guilty of getting caught in possession going forward. We were caught out of position and a ball squared to a guy unmarked inside the area was slotted home. All rather too easy after the initial error.
The following 25 minutes were a sorry tale of us increasingly unable to retain possession or to get anything moving going forward, with Bulot providing no meaningful support for Vetokele, and Norwich looking more than capable of adding to their lead. There was one moment of promise when Igor seemed to have timed a run well and was picked out in space to bear down on goal, only for the linesman to flag him offside. I'd have to see it again to be sure, but I'd put money on it being a poor decision as it wasn't Vetokele in an offside position. That aside, we failed to trouble their defence and again, the hope was that Norwich wouldn't put the game to bed before half-time. They continued to threaten but we were just about holding on, albeit with the mood ever more restless. But then more uncertainty on the ball in the middle of the park and this time their guy was sent through with only Dmitrovic to beat and with the ball sitting up nicely for him he chipped the keeper to give them a cushion and to spark understandable dissent from the crowd.
Any number of changes might have been made at the break, but Luzon settled on just the one, taking off the ineffective Bulot for Watt. It didn't make an immediate difference, as Norwich began the second half pretty much still in control and more likely to add to their lead than be pegged back. Who knows what would have happened if they had scored a third, but they were so comfortable that they did relax and probably became just a tad over-confident.
Watt at least gave them something to think about by on his own dancing through three or four before being dispossessed; he had to try his luck as nobody in a red shirt was getting close to him. Perhaps spurred on by that, amazingly with our first serious threat we were back in it. Vetokele played in Watt to run through and he calmly stroked the ball past the keeper. Quite simple, not rocket science, but decent movement and the right pass played, followed by a good finish.
Encouragement at least and perhaps the promise of more as another attacking substitution was made. Jackson, who had provided a damn site more metal through the game than Buyens but was perhaps going to struggle to last the full game, came off and Harriott came on, to play on the wing as Cousins moved inside. And glory be it was only another few minutes and we were level. This time, having won possession in the middle of the park, good choices were again made as Cousins and Harriott combined and when the ball was squared Igor connected. For a moment from the East Stand it seemed it might not have gone in, but seems the ball rebounded from the stantion and all was well. Two forwards converting decent chances, two guys obviously in need of a goal.
Still another 20 minutes or so to go and now Norwich have to go out and win again a game that for so long had been in their pocket. To be fair to them, they steadied the ship, made a change up front to bring on Jerome to give them more of a physical presence in our box, and we seemed caught between going for a truly amazing victory and trying to hold what we had. Perhaps surprisingly, as the game entered the final 10 minutes, we didn't make use of a third possible change, just to get on another pair of fresh legs. Instead Norwich had moments from set pieces, with Dmitrovic not always strong when punching clear or attempting to catch high balls, a dreadful appeal for a penalty rightly rejected (but not punished with an appropriate yellow), and then scored another simple goal. Decent move down their left, ball into the box, Jerome heads home without either of our central defenders getting close to it.
We had five minutes of stoppage time but we failed to muster another serious attempt on their goal in what remained. Most games that have five goals and only one between them can be described as thrillers, but this one wasn't. Through the entire game I doubt that anyone there thought other than that Norwich were the better team, or at the finish that we were in any way robbed. The surprise was that we got back into it as two well-worked chances were both taken, by two players who did emerge with credit. To then lose was in a way cruel, but given the way we had failed to protect the back four and the way that through the game that back four had failed to prevent chances it was hardly robbery.
When the dust settles we are left with just the facts: another defeat, a team that doesn't really know how to play together, a disparate group of players low on confidence and with apparently variable motivation, and time running out to turn things around as we edge closer to a relegation spot. We avoided humiliation but came close. We lost because we conceded three and, but for wasteful finishing on their part and complacency, it could have been more. Just who and where to lay the blame isn't so easy as it smacked of a collective failure; undoubtedly some players had awful games, some just made mistakes. It needs sorting and quickly.