Paddy Davitt verdict: City can compete. But they cannot conquer
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Cut adrift at the bottom. Applauded from the field. The final act of Norwich City’s Premier League quest is proving a disorientating mix of emotions.
Not for the first time this season it was a case of what might have been.
The Canaries neutralised a team of the ages for all bar the time it took Sadio Mane to ease Christoph Zimmermann under Jordan Henderson's lob and lash a venomous strike past Tim Krul.
That was the margin separating two teams orbiting different football planets.
Liverpool now have more points at this stage of a season than has ever been achieved in the history of Europe's top five leagues. Fact.
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Yet porous Norwich, naïve Norwich, out of their depth Norwich kept Liverpool at bay for 126 minutes of Premier League playing time this season.
The point from which Divock Origi's header hit the back of the net at Anfield on the opening night during a first half blitz until Mane pounced in the 78th minute at Carrow Road.
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Yet they have nothing tangible to show for it, apart from warm applause and the pride felt by their fan base at the bravery of such efforts to try and bridge the divide. Commodities that should not be dismissed lightly.
If this is now a march to the Football League that strong connection is vital to plot a concerted attempt at a fightback.
Norwich have been good. But not good enough. What transpired against the champions-elect has been a pattern in play since arguably the away win at Everton in late November.
Bar a rancid offering at Manchester United, where they rolled over far too compliantly, City have had chances to win every other Premier League game.
Not for the first or last time Daniel Farke cut to the heart of the matter following the goalless stalemate at Newcastle United prior to the mid-winter break.
A squad of exciting fresh talents and astute overseas imports are not clinical enough when it matters at this highest level. They do not possess the depth of resource or the quality required.
They can compete but they cannot conquer often enough.
It is not defeatism, it is realism and Farke can speak honestly and openly because the majority of his fan base accept the parameters and constraints he is working under.
That does not dull the sense of frustration or the disappointment. Or mask the deficiencies. Farke pulled all those strands together when dissecting the defining acts of this game.
Lukas Rupp neither tested Alisson nor slipped in Teemu Pukki to roll the ball into an empty net during the first half. Mane needed one touch, after cutely levering Zimmermann out of the way, to apply a fearsome finish.
That is the difference. And no amount of effort or endeavour or character or fighting spirit can help Norwich in such pivotal Premier League moments.
To talk in terms of 'miracles' and being favourites to finish bottom is not an easy get out clause for Farke or his squad.
Too often in the early part of the campaign they were found wanting as they tried to acclimatise, and overcome a debilitating injury list at the same time. Circumstances within and beyond their control have left them with too much to do.
A festive swing of favourable fixtures came and went without the necessary points haul to inject fresh momentum. The lack of goals from open play since the turn of the year is now alarming.
There will be inevitable regrets should they fall short over these coming weeks.
Farke spoke in terms of six wins needed from the next 11 after defeat to the Reds in order to set up a grandstand final day trip to Manchester City. Given what was achieved last season you would never dismiss his words lightly but a 'little miracle' looks to be underplaying the scale of the task.
Outwardly, there should be no let up.
No loss of focus until the currents are too strong. But you could detect in the nature of Norwich's late transfer window business last month the planning for the next phase is well underway.
Melvin Sitti and Sam McCallum are signings to refresh and regenerate a playing pool that will undergo an inevitable transition. Whether a tilt at the Premier League has come too soon in the cycle is irrelevant.
This is not about looking back but trying to remain one step ahead.
Stuart Webber's task, in tandem with his anointed head coach, is to limit the turbulence over the summer and harness the financial advantages back in the Football League to ensure when, or if, Norwich return to the top table they are in a stronger position on and off the park.