Sheffield Wednesday 3, Norwich City 2
CHRIS LAKEY If Dion Dublin does decide that this was his final game in the yellow and green of Norwich City, he certainly chose the perfect exit. Having seen his defence self-destruct in the first half today, it was no surprise when City manager Peter Grant made Dublin the fulcrum of his tactical switch as he attempted to retrieve something from a game which, on paper, meant so little, but in terms of next season could have meant so much.
If Dion Dublin does decide that this was his final game in the yellow and green of Norwich City, he certainly chose the perfect exit.
The 38-year-old has been pretty much writing his own scripts in recent weeks, a series of high quality performances changing his role at Carrow Road from short-term emergency striker to all-round good guy and vital cog in the Norwich City engine.
And having seen his defence self-destruct in the first half today, it was no surprise when City manager Peter Grant made Dublin the fulcrum of his tactical switch as he attempted to retrieve something from a game which, on paper, meant so little, but in terms of next season could have meant so much.
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Dublin headed forward and within 10 minutes City's comeback had begun - Dublin setting up Robert Earnshaw for his 19th of the season.
City huffed and puffed and with 15 minutes to go Dublin got the reward his efforts deserved and City were back in the game.
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Sadly, time - as Dublin knows only too well - stops for no-one, and it was only the clock ticking inexorably towards the 90-minute point that prevented City from taking home a point they deserved.
Grant, as expected, was without right-winger Lee Croft and opted for a four-man midfield, with a recall for teenager Michael Spillane in place of Chris Martin. Perhaps the clues that it was the last match of the season with nothing riding on it came in the make-up of the City bench, where back-up keeper Paul Gallacher was joined by four teenagers - Martin, Bally Smart, Kris Renton and Andrew Cave-Brown.
With just three minutes on the clock Canaries keeper Tony Warner was called into action, acrobatically tipping a Peter Gilbert volley from just outside the area over his crossbar for a corner.
Adam Drury then took a ball into the area off Marcus Tudgay's toes before City swept to the far end only to see Darren Huckerby's shot from 15 yards take a deflection wide.
City worked an opening of sorts on nine minutes when Simon Lappin did well to free Huckerby down the left flank. City's Player of the Season couldn't get the ball in to Earnshaw, but held it up long enough to knock it back to Spillane, whose first time shot was sliced well wide from 25 yards.
Kenny Lunt fired wide of the edge of the area as both team struggled to find their shooting boots and, it appeared, their enthusiasm - Burton, as if on cue, went to the side of the pitch to change his.
Huckerby and Earnshaw combined well on 17 minutes, but Fotheringham was inches away from getting on the end of Lappin's low cross across the box But Wednesday's Jermaine Johnson down the right flank and Chris Brunt down the left were beginning to cause some anxious moments in the Canaries' defence. Warner managed to get his hands on one Johnson effort but they were keeping Drury and Andy Hughes busy.
Johnson's trickery prompted one rash challenge too many from Dickson Etuhu, who earned himself a yellow card, but the real damage was done in the 26th minute. Johnson appeared to have too many players in front of him as he approached the edge of City's area, but he teased Drury and in the flash of an eye moved a yard to his left and hit a screaming left-footer into Warner's top corner to give Wednesday the lead.
Lunt's cross should have brought a better reward than a Tudgay header over the bar - but the sigh of three Wednesday players unmarked in the City penalty area clearly infuriated Grant.
The only realistic outlet for City was Huckerby, although when he was upended by Bullen he earned himself a yellow card for diving - much to his fury and the home fans' delight. The beneficial side effect was that Johnson was being occupied on more defensive duties helping out the struggling Yoann Folly.
Shackell should have done better with a free header from Lappin's moments later as they attempted to regain some composure, but yet again the threat was down the left with Huckerby.
Shackell was luckier in front of his own goal, where he appeared to handle a free-kick from Brunt before hacking the ball away.
Huckerby was pulled up for using his hands in a similar way at the other end, trying to control the ball illegally after keeper Chris Adamson spilled Lappin's corner, and then sent in a cross too deep for Etuhu.
Drury recovered from a heavy fall just before the break to send in a cross which was tantalisingly close, but not close enough, to Fotheringham and Spillane, while Earnshaw was denied a run on goal when a linesman's flag was raised as he collected a pass from Hughes - with Grant apoplectic on the touchline.
But his mood darkened further - if that was possible - on the stroke of half-time when Lunt swung in a corner. City's defence was guilty of failed to get anywhere near it and Deon Burton, unmarked at the back post, made the most of his good fortune, lashing a half-volley into the top of the net from less than five yards.
A two-goal deficit at half-time was harsh on City, but Grant would have been furious at his defence, who had allowed Wednesday two big breaks down their right-hand side. Martin was introduced for the second half in place of Drury, with Lappin moving to left back and Huckerby dropping back, allowing the teenager to partner Earnshaw.
Three minutes into the second half, Warner had a "Bryan Gunn" moment, a poor kick putting Etuhu under pressure. The midfielder passed it back, Warner went to clear the bouncing ball and missed - and City were three down.
Etuhu could have made amends a couple of minutes later, but volleyed Dublin's nod-back high from the edge of the area. Earnshaw, off balance, then poked the ball wide from six yards after good work by Huckerby.
Grant had pushed Dublin up front, Spillane dropping back and Martin moving to the right of midfield.
It worked within minutes, with a Huckerby throw-in flicked on by Dublin and Earnshaw hammering home a tremendous volley from just inside the area on 55 minutes. Dublin was inches from connecting with another Huckerby cross soon after as City plotted a comeback.
Fotheringham's shot from distance was easy for Adamson but at least City appeared to have stemmed the Wednesday tide.
Lunt had other ideas, forcing Warner to tip over a piledriver on 67 minutes, but Shackell was denied by the keeper who did well to save his header from Fotheringham's corner.
The comeback gathered pace, and real belief, on 74 minutes, Lappin working an opening down the left and swinging in a delightful cross which Dublin buried with aplomb.
The City fans had been claiming their team would win 4-3 - going on previous evidence it was an ambitious claim, but their team were certainly enjoying a second wind and plenty of pressure.
City's problem was the clock - as Dublin highlighted to the referee more than once.
Shackell's diving header from Hughes' corner five minutes from time was inches wide, Etuhu's volley in injury time was high - and City's season was over.