City's hopes are gone for a Burton at Death Valley
David Cuffley It took Norwich City fractionally more than 50 minutes to wipe away the legacy of nearly 50 years as they crashed out of the Championship in a manner befitting their dreadful season.
It took Norwich City fractionally more than 50 minutes to wipe away the legacy of nearly 50 years as they crashed out of the Championship in a manner befitting their dreadful season.
Yesterday's shameful defeat by a team already relegated was pretty much guaranteed after just half an hour as a goal by Charlton player of the season Nicky Bailey and two from striker Deon Burton gave the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Striker Alan Lee, the 16th loan player of City's beg, steal or borrow campaign, reduced the arrears in first-half stoppage time, but when Burton completed his hat-trick six minutes into the second half, any faint, flickering hope of a minor miracle was extinguished.
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The Canaries were relegated by five points, not even close in the end, as they returned to the third flight for the first time since 1960 - along with yesterday's hosts and the team with whom they were promoted 49 years ago, Southampton.
How Burton must simply love playing against Norwich City - he must put a big ring on the calendar round the last day of the season as soon as the fixtures are announced.
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Two years ago, he scored on the final day as Sheffield Wednesday beat City 3-2 at Hillsborough. Last season he struck twice, again on the last day of the campaign, for the Owls as they thumped the Canaries 4-1.
And Burton went one better yesterday when he delivered the old 1-2-3 against Bryan Gunn's doomed and dishevelled troops to double his goal tally for the season.
In the end, the result at The Valley was irrelevant in terms of City's survival chances because Barnsley won 2-1 at Plymouth. It was just as well they did, for if such a pitiful performance had cost the Canaries a genuine chance of staying up, it would have been even more traumatic for their 3,300 travelling fans.
As it was, City supporters were reduced to exchanging ironic chants with their Charlton counterparts at the opposite end of Death Valley as both sets of fans contemplated life in League One with a defiant touch of gallows humour. But on this evidence, the Charlton squad is better equipped to make a swift return.
Gunn made four changes to the side beaten 2-0 by Reading on Monday night, with Ryan Bertrand's groin injury and a fresh knock for Adam Drury leading to a defensive reshuffle, with Jason Shackell switched to left-back to accommodate Adrian Leijer in the centre of defence. Teenager Korey Smith was handed his full debut in midfield.
But City looked ill at ease with their new line-up from the start. Both Burton and Bailey were sprightly in the opening minutes but the Canaries' problems really began soon after news of Plymouth's early goal against Barnsley filtered through to The Valley.
Within 90 seconds of the City fans bursting into celebration at what they felt could be a vital lifeline, they were silenced by Bailey's ninth-minute opener. Lloyd Sam got away from Shackell on the right and Bailey ghosted in unmarked at the far post to head home.
Gary Doherty headed wide from a Sammy Clingan free-kick two minutes later, but after a brief delay when Charlton defender Darren Ward was stretchered off, the hosts took up where they left off. By the half-hour mark, it was 3-0.
After 25 minutes, Burton pounced to knock in a rebound after Therry Racon's left-foot shot was only pushed away by Marshall.
Five minutes later, Bailey crossed from the left and Burton did just enough to touch the ball home.
Striker Cody McDonald was introduced for Leijer five minutes before the break as City reorganised and, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, they reduced the arrears. Simon Lappin's inswinging corner was nodded back by Jon Otsemobor at the far post and Lee headed home from almost on the goalline.
But if that was intended to give City a flicker of hope at the interval, they were totally sunk six minutes into the second half. Sam teased his way past Lappin and crossed for Burton, arriving in the six-yard box, to slide the ball home for his hat-trick.
Clingan reduced the arrears on the hour when he curled in an excellent free-kick from just outside the penalty area for his sixth goal of the season.
Lappin also had the ball in the net from a free-kick nine minutes later, but was shown the yellow card for taking it too quickly.
As City threw both centre-backs into the attack - rather than introducing the two strikers on the bench - Shackell had a shot blocked and Lee had a header tipped away by goalkeeper Rob Elliot, but Charlton teenager Jonjo Shelvey struck the bar four minutes from time as the hosts threatened to make it five.
For City, there were painful echoes of the 6-0 humiliation at Fulham on the last day of the Premiership campaign four years ago, but their current plight is far worse - in terms of football, finances and feelgood factor - and the road back to respectability looks a very long one indeed.