The fat lady, as they say, is warming up her tonsils in preparation for what could be a funeral dirge for Norwich City Football Club. Relegation for City has been unthinkable - but City fans will be able to think of nothing else after they missed the final opportunity to decide their own fate.

The fat lady, as they say, is warming up her tonsils in preparation for what could be a funeral dirge for Norwich City Football Club.

Relegation for City has been unthinkable - but City fans will be able to think of nothing else after they missed the final opportunity to decide their own fate.

Win and it would have been up to City to throw away at Charlton on Sunday.

Lose and it didn't matter if you were world beaters, it was someone else's job to throw you a lifeline. And Barnsley won't be in the mood to do that at the weekend.

“I'm City till I die” proclaimed the fans as the match petered out - but it's the club, not its fans, which is suffering death by a thousand cuts.

Three efforts on target in a match City had to win just about sums up what they've put us through this season - they simply haven't been good enough. And against a Reading side that was hungrier for promotion that City were for salvation, it was way too short of what was required.

In the big scheme of things it means Plymouth and Nottingham Forest are safe - and City will survive only if they win on Sunday and Barnsley lose, at Plymouth, where the worry cloud has been well and truly lifted.

How it got to this state of affairs only the people in the corridors of power may know - but we need some answers.

City were undone by two second-half goals by Shane Long - both set up by winger Jimmy Kebe in almost identical moves which just exposed the frailities in City's defence.

Until then City had been well in the match, but Reading took charge of the second half and would have won it on points anyway - a commodity that has been in short supply in these parts.

Bryan Gunn, unable to call on loan striker David Mooney against his parent club, gave Cody McDonald his first start after a string of impressive cameo appearances off the bench.

McDonald partnered Alan Lee, with Alan Gow on the left and David Carney on the right, where Player of the Season Lee Croft failed to shake off a calf injury.

Otherwise, Gunn stuck with the side which lost the East Anglian derby at Ipswich eight days earlier - with Jamie Cureton back on the bench after being left out in the cold since the end of February.

You could cut the nervous tension with a knife as the players waited to kick off - but then it was strictly business.

Carrow Road shook as the fans got behind their team - and their manager - but it was Reading who had possession in the early moments.

Jon Otsemobor did well to head away Liam Rosenior's deep cross from the right while Shane Long might have done better when he picked up a loose ball by Sammy Clingan.

Nerves were clearly going to play a part given the gravity of the situation - and keeper David Marshall was almost caught out when he dallied with a back pass allowing Long time to close him down.

Fortunately for City the ball went wide and the danger passed.

It was midfielder Darel Russell who had the first shot of the game, in the ninth minute, but keeper Marcus Hahnemann was behind it all the way. Alan Gow then showed his quality when he tried to release McDonald, but the keeper was quick off his line.

Jason Shackell did well to block Long's shot as City's defence was carved open - had he not it would have surely been the opening goal.

It wasn't so much cat and mouse as cut and thrust in the opening quarter of an hour as each side sought the vital breakthrough.

Russell got a talking-to but nothing more from referee Clive Oliver after taking out Jem Karacan.

Shackell might have done better when he got his head to a Clingan free-kick but, he was off balance and way off target.

McDonald raised the roof when he got between two defenders on the inside left position before he was scythed down by Liam Rosenior - which produced an inevitable yellow card for the right back. Clingan lined up the kick, went for the top left-hand corner and was just inches away from a stunning opener, although Hahnemann may have had it covered.

City were struggling to get the ball in from wide, with Lee struggling to get into the game as a result. Perhaps the first time he was involved from wide was on the half hour mark when Otsemobor found him, he nodded the ball back for McDonald but his fellow striker's overhead kick attempt ended in a whistle for dangerous play.

David Carney brought the crowd to its feet with a tremendous shot from all off 35 yards that just about cleared the bar - and sent Carrow Road into full voice again.

City wobbled for a while but Reading failed to punish them for a series of mistakes.

McDonald might have done better with a driving run which ended with him over-running the ball, but the inexperienced striker was causing the visiting defence a few problems.

Reading lost winger Glenn Little to injury four minutes before the break, replacing him with Stephen Hunt.

Clingan tried his luck with a snapshot from 25 yards which was only a yard wide, but City were enjoying a decent spell which had put them in the ascendancy - although the first-half goal was destined never to arrive.

t Half-time: Norwich City 0, Reading 0

Gow almost got the second half off to a perfect start but curled a shot inches wide after being played in by Otsemobor.

Kalifa Cisse left his foot in on Russell, earning himself a yellow card - although referee Clive Oliver took his time before allowing Russell back on the field after treatment. Mr Oliver upset fans when he hauled up McDonald after a chase with Andre Bikey left the Reading player on the ground - although it looked for all the world like two footballers chasing a football.

However, while players and fans alike may have been less than enamoured with the official, it served to lift everyone of a yellow and green hue.

City carried on where they'd left off, taking the game to Reading.

Suffice to say only one thing was missing: the goal.

But Reading gradually worked their way back and McDonald did really well to block a shot by Karacan just before the hour mark. For 10 minutes it was the visitors' best spell of the game, although the Royals had the same problem - they weren't testing the opposition keeper.

Reading made their second change on 62 minutes, Marek Matejovsky replacing Cisse - and moments later Long shot just over, the first effort by a Reading player to have troubled Marshall.

Carney almost found the head of Lee at the back post with a cross, but Hahnemann got enough on it to put the striker off his header.

Frustration - and concern - was beginning to mount as City's midfield possession ended there - in the middle.

But on 68 minutes it all went dreadfully wrong for City.

Kebe had possession on the left and swept past Otsemobor with embarrassing ease. The winger put in a deep cross and Long was there at the back post to head it home. Doherty put his hand up for an offside decision, but it never came and was never likely to - and now City had to score not once, but twice. And in a match in which they hardly troubled the keeper, that was asking too much.

City had 22 minutes to find something - and within minutes teenager Luke Daley was introduced for Carney, who had struggled to provide much out wide.

But then disaster number two struck on 78 minutes - and it was the same combination which was responsible. Kebe's cross - from deep left, Long's header from the back post.

It wasn't so much a long way back for City, more an impossible task.

The crowd was almost silent - except for a few hundred Reading fans.

Gow's low shot lacked the power to worry the keeper or raise a song and you sensed an air of acceptance that League One was just a fixture list away.

t Result: Norwich City 0, Reading 2

t Norwich City: Marshall 6, Otsemobor 5, Doherty 7, Shackell 7 (Leijer 79, 6), Bertrand 6, Carney 5 (Daley 74, 6), Russell 6, Clingan 8, Gow 6, McDonald 7, Lee 5. Subs: Nelson, Cureton, Lappin.

t Reading: Hahnemann, Rosenior, Bikey, Duberry, Harding, Little (S Hunt 41), Karacan, Cisse (Matejovsky 62), Kebe, Long, Kitson (Pearce 89).

Subs: Federici, Doyle.