Some light at the end of the tunnel?
CHRIS WISE Norwich City hauled themselves out of the abyss to turn what looked liked being a complete and utter shambles into a remarkable, morale-boosting victory.
Norwich City hauled themselves out of the abyss to turn what looked liked being a complete and utter shambles into a remarkable, morale-boosting victory.
The jeers were ringing out at Carrow Road on the hour mark as a distinctly average Rangers outfit moved into what looked like an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Chants of 'This is embarrassing' and the rather more familiar 'We want Worthy out' summed the dark mood of the supporters as Lee Cook's well-struck shot hit the back of the net.
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And with no sign of an immediate response from their side, Worthington's detractors then turned up the heat still further by booing every touch of one of his summer signings Andy Hughes before turning their attention to the club's owners by asking: 'Are you watching Delia?'
It was all extremely uncomfortable to watch and as the game entered its final quarter one sensed that a disappointing season was about to hit rock bottom. But, with just 12 minutes left on the clock, a rare Darren Huckerby header brought the struggling Canaries back into the match and all of a sudden the supporters who had been calling for the manager's head put their grievances to one side, temporarily one would assume, to get behind their team.
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With everyone all suddenly pulling in the same direction the game was completely transformed, with Norwich finally putting their opponents under pressure, and to everyone's astonishment they managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, with two goals in the final five minutes from Robert Earnshaw earning Worthington's under pressure side the most unlikely of victories.
Such a dramatic conclusion looked highly unlikely after one of poorest first halves seen at Carrow Road for many a year. With nothing but pride to play for the first 45 minutes had 'end of season' written all over it, with neither side seeming capable of creating a chance or stringing a half decent move together.
The highlight for Norwich - if that's the right word - was a Jason Shackell header that was blocked by the Rangers defence, while at the other end Paul Gallacher was, like his opposite number Paul Jones, a virtual spectator on his home debut.
Teenager Michael Spillane looked comfortable in his second Championship start - but that was as good as it got for the home fans, many of whom had already headed off for an early drink when Gareth Ainsworth conjured up a goal out of the blue in first half injury-time.
With fans on both sides waiting for referee Keith Stroud to put them out of their misery, Rangers suddenly strung some passes together, with Paul Furlong, Marc Nygaard and Steve Lomas working the ball across the face of the penalty area from left to right to set up the overlapping winger to fire an angled low drive past Gallacher.
The goal was greeted by a chorus of boos and the first anti-Worthington chants of the afternoon - and the Canaries weren't exactly cheered back on to the pitch after the interval.
But with Paul McVeigh on for the injured Spillane, the home side started the second period well and should really have drawn level when Earnshaw screwed the ball wide from an excellent position after latching on to a clever lobbed pass from Dickson Etuhu.
Veteran keeper Jones then pulled off a smart stop to deny Huckerby after Carl Robinson's quick free-kick had caught the visiting defence napping. But Rangers also looked dangerous and could easily have stretched their lead when Nygaard's powerful header from a Cook corner caused mayhem in the Norwich six-yard box. Gallacher did well to keep it out and Ryan Jarvis then marked his first start since September by pulling off a near miraculous goal-line clearance to deny Furlong after the veteran striker had latched on to the loose ball.
All of a sudden there was something for both sets of fans to get excited about, but you could have once again cut the atmosphere with a knife on 61 minutes when the London outfit made it 2-0.
An aimless long ball into the Rangers areas had already prompted some groans of derision - and ironic applause - when the luckless Hughes carelessly lost possession just inside his own half, gifting the dangerous Cook a run on goal. To be fair to the City utility man, who had switched to right-back at half-time, the Rangers winger still had plenty to do when he picked up possession. But Hughes was the man who was singled out for blame as Cook glided past a couple of weak Norwich challenges before burying a low shot in bottom corner.
It was the final straw as far as some supporters were concerned but, to their credit the Canaries kept battling, with Earnshaw going close before Huckerby gave them some hope in the 78th minute.
Rangers defender Mauro Milanese brought a save out of his own keeper - prompting a sarcastic chant of 'Can you score a goal for us?' - when the City winger did it for himself by nodding the ball over the head of Jones after the Welsh international had made a complete hash of a cross from the much derided Hughes.
It was now game on and with a nervous Rangers defence visibly wilting Norwich got back on level terms seven minutes later as Earnshaw popped up the six-yard box to fire home after McVeigh had stepped over a right wing cross from fellow substitute Jonatan Johansson.
By then you sensed it might just be Norwich's day after all, especially when Gallacher produced two world-class saves in the space of four minutes to deny first Danny Shittu and then Furlong when it seemed the Rangers men just had to score. And so it proved, with Earnshaw completing a quick one-two seconds before the game entered over-time. It was all rather straight-forward in the end, with McVeigh picking up a short corner and chipping it to the back post for Gary Doherty to head across the face of goal for Earnshaw to bundle home, with Etuhu in close attendance.
The late goal meant that history had repeated itself on the 30th anniversary of one of the most famous games ever played at Carrow Road. Way back on April 17, 1976 Rangers headed to Carrow Road needing a win to virtually guarantee the Division One title - that's the Premiership in old money - only for John Bond's Canaries to win a dramatic game 3-2 and effectively hand the title to Liverpool.
There wasn't quite so much at stake yesterday, and I should imagine another instalment in the long running saga of Norwich v QPR encounters will be long forgotten in 2036. But it was still one of the more remarkable games of football you are ever likely to see and the fact that it completed a run of six straight home wins perhaps indicates that things aren't quite as desperate at Carrow Road as some people are trying to make out. Improvement is required, of that there is no doubt - but on the evidence of the final 15 minutes there is some light at the tunnel.