Norwich City just can’t afford to squander an open goal

Robert Fleck, crowned player of the year before kick-off, secured the point against Wimbledon that d

Robert Fleck, crowned player of the year before kick-off, secured the point against Wimbledon that did just enough to guarantee Division One survival in April 1992. - Credit: Archant

I always said Swansea City were a thoroughly decent lot.

Not only have they been most obliging opponents in the past three seasons for Norwich City, but the Swans have now done Chris Hughton and his squad a king-sized favour in their battle for Premier League survival.

Their 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night was an unexpected bonus for the Canaries just as their hold on top-flight status started to look rather precarious, and a timely tonic after the shattering blow of Aston Villa’s last-minute winner at Carrow Road on Saturday.

An awful chill went down my spine – and I suspect that of thousands of City fans – when Gabriel Agbonlahor swept in his second goal of the afternoon. A draw against Villa would not have been a bad result, at least keeping them below Norwich in the table ahead of their final home game of the season against Chelsea.

But City’s first league home defeat since December left them looking very vulnerable, and they have cause to be very grateful to Stoke and Swansea for their efforts on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

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True, Stoke did not manage to polish off 10-man Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, but a draw at least keeps the Black Cats in the thick of the relegation battle before their dog-eat-dog clash with Southampton on Sunday.

As for Wigan, their surprise home defeat has left them in an unenviable position. Their lack of a Premier League fixture this weekend – because of the small matter of today’s FA Cup final against Manchester City – means that regardless of other results, they will inevitably be playing catch-up on their rivals when they go to Arsenal on Tuesday night to face a side desperate to confirm a Champions League place.

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City and their rivals have the chance to put a potentially decisive gap between themselves and Wigan. The question is, can they take advantage?

Everyone and his dog has been urged to get behind City in recent weeks, with pitch parades and clappers, schoolchildren raising their voices and ex-players supporting this show of solidarity.

But now it’s time for the under-performing team, with two wins in the past 19 league games, to seize the moment. Beat West Bromwich Albion on Sunday and it could all be sorted, possibly that very day, more probably by Tuesday night.

Swansea have presented City with an open goal – one they cannot afford to miss.


• Saturday, April 25, 1992

Division One

Norwich City 1, Wimbledon 1

(Att 11,061)

With their FA Cup final dream dashed and the Barclay terrace bulldozed, City faced a meagre crowd and were desperate to end a run of six straight league defeats that threatened their top-flight status.

It was Robert Fleck, crowned player of the year before kick-off, who secured the point that did just enough to guarantee survival.

Fleck scored after 20 minutes, his 19th goal of the season, but there was more nail-biting to come when Gary Elkins equalised for the Dons from a 52nd-minute free-kick.

City held on and a draw was enough to keep them up with one game to spare.

• Tuesday, April 24, 1973

Division One

Norwich City 2, Crystal Palace 1

(Att 36,922)

The escape act to end all escape acts as defender Dave Stringer headed an injury-time winner that almost guaranteed City’s top-flight place, and relegated Malcolm Allison’s Palace.

Palace led through a controversial Don Rogers penalty, with skipper Duncan Forbes adjudged to have upended Derek Possee. Colin Suggett headed the equaliser before half-time, his first goal for the club.

Stringer’s goal from a Max Briggs corner all but ensured survival, which was confirmed by West Bromwich Albion’s home defeat by Manchester City the following night.

• Monday, May 7, 1984

Division One

Norwich City 1, Birmingham 1

(Att 13,601)

Skipper Dave Watson’s second-half header from a Dennis Van Wyk corner gave City the point they needed for safety.

Howard Gayle equalised for the Blues on 87 minutes just to prolong the agony.

• Monday, April 27, 2009

Coca-Cola Championship

Norwich City 0, Reading 2

(Att 25,041)

City were as good as doomed to League One by two second-half goals from Shane Long in the Monday night TV game.

A 4-2 defeat at Charlton six days later was the final insult but Barnsley’s 2-1 win at Plymouth made the result irrelevant.

• Saturday, May 2, 1981

Division One

Norwich City 2, Leicester 3

(Att 25,307)

A Jim Melrose hat-trick for already doomed Leicester ended the Canaries’ survival hopes, despite coming back from 2-0 down through Mick McGuire and Justin Fashanu.

The result was academic after a shock win by Sunderland at Liverpool. Even a win would not have helped.

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