More capital punishment for City
David Cuffley Leyton Orient 2, Norwich City 1: Managers and players do not generally believe in jinxes, bogey teams or the idea that past records against a certain club have any influence on their next meeting.
Leyton Orient 2, Norwich City 1
Managers and players do not generally believe in jinxes, bogey teams or the idea that past records against a certain club have any influence on their next meeting.
Which is probably just as well as League One leaders Norwich City prepare to visit promotion-chasing Charlton Athletic on Saturday.
Last night's defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Leyton Orient extended a woeful sequence of results in London for the Canaries, who have won just once on their last 26 visits to the capital in all competitions, stretching back seven years.
All three trips to London this season have ended in defeat, and if we want to get all the bad omens out of the way first, their last Football League victory at The Valley - as opposed to Charlton's other temporary homes - came in 1972.
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Thankfully, Paul Lambert's team have shattered one or two such hoodoos this season en route to a position where they remain promotion favourites, even if they are zigzagging to the finishing line just a little after taking only four points from four games.
They are still in the happy position of knowing that five points is the most they will need from their final four fixtures to clinch their return to the Championship, and they could even be promoted on Saturday if Millwall oblige by losing at Huddersfield on Friday night and City follow up by beating fourth-placed Charlton.
But last night's setback at Barry Hearn's Matchroom Stadium - which, incidentally, still had a goal at each end and not six pockets where the flags should be - was an unwelcome worry for more than 3,000 vociferous travelling fans, who provided 40 per cent of the audience and deserved better than the rather patchy display they witnessed.
Conceding goals from set-pieces has been something of an Achilles heel for City this season. Even since they first topped the table, they have been undone at free-kicks or corners in games against Millwall, Brighton, Southampton, Huddersfield, Swindon and MK Dons - and their dead-ball jitters surfaced again as Orient midfielder Sean Thornton struck twice in the first half last night.
The first shock came in only the third minute as a free-kick from the left by Ben Chorley was nodded on by veteran striker Scott McGleish and Thornton, back in the side after suspension, got the wrong side of the defence to chest the ball wide of recalled goalkeeper Fraser Forster and knock it home.
Forster had to be quick off his line after 14 minutes to beat ex-Canary Ryan Jarvis to a McGleish through-ball, but as City gradually found their feet, Stephen Elliott, Darel Russell and Chris Martin all had long-range efforts blocked before Korey Smith supplied the equaliser.
It came in the 19th minute when Elliott turned Chris Martin's pass into Smith's path and he placed his shot perfectly from 20 yards for his fourth goal of the season.
City began to assert some authority and were certainly out of luck after 26 minutes when Chris Martin collected Adam Drury's throw-in and struck the foot of the post with an audacious 30-yard shot that drifted just at the vital moment.
Instead, Orient cashed in on that slice of good fortune and regained the lead three minutes later. This time Charlie Daniels swung in a free-kick from the right, Thornton again getting behind the defence to beat Forster with a powerful free header.
Orient finished the half in the ascendancy as Gary Doherty had to make a vital header to prevent Jarvis getting on the end of a cross by the impressive Thornton, then Daniels hit a swerving free-kick that Forster had to beat away and Jarvis fired wide after a fine four-man move.
Such uncertain defending at both ends seemed to promise more goals in the second half, but the damage was already done.
The combined absence of skipper Grant Holt through suspension and star forward Wes Hoolahan through injury left the visitors rather short of inspiration and, with the third quarter of the match uneventful, Anthony McNamee was sent on in place of Simon Lappin in a bid to spark another grandstand finish by the Canaries. Instead, they could have gone further behind but for Forster's alertness.
First he had to race from his line to clear from Jarvis after a backpass by Russell Martin fell short, then Daniels was very close to making it 3-1 after 77 minutes when he burst clean through the City defence but Forster smothered his low drive. The 'keeper distinguished himself again a minute later, this time producing the best save of all, leaping to his left to keep out McGleish's left-foot shot.
A double change was Lambert's last throw of the dice and it almost paid dividends as substitute Stephen Hughes came desperately close to levelling within two minutes of coming on when his powerful shot was kept out by 'keeper Jamie Jones. If anything, Hughes struck it too well.
Then, in stoppage time, with City's big following urging them to deliver another miracle, McNamee was even closer to salvaging a point when he struck the woodwork with a curling effort from outside the area.
For once, City's late rally was not enough to stave off defeat, and the result in East London has served to prolong the anxiety - agony being too strong a word - for a little while longer. One hopes it is only what the broadcasters used to call a temporary fault.