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Lacklustre City revert to type

PUBLISHED: 11:46 06 April 2009 | UPDATED: 13:36 03 July 2010

It's at times like this when you wonder if everyone rather over-hyped City's recent run of form: three wins in five was good enough to prompt talk of safety, continued Championship football and playing Leicester and Peterborough in a three-team A47 mini-league next season.

It's at times like this when you wonder if everyone rather over-hyped City's recent run of form: three wins in five was good enough to prompt talk of safety, continued Championship football and playing Leicester and Peterborough in a three-team A47 mini-league next season.

Then reality hits home and the shock to the system that Saturday was illustrates just why City are guaranteed absolutely nothing but the lingering possibility that it could be Hartlepool and Walsall instead - and that thinking ahead just isn't a wise thing to do around these parts.

Among the debris left behind by referee Mike Russell was an inescapable fact - that City didn't deserve anything from the game.

Mr Russell's decision to disallow a David Mooney “goal” and turn down a couple of City penalty appeals means nothing this morning when the Championship table will still show that Norwich are once again looking over the precipice at the huge drop that the fall into League One would be.

A run of one defeat in five Championship games - including successive wins at Carrow Road - had given us all a fresh taste of optimism, but at 5pm on Saturday there was only a bitter taste left in the mouth. When you expected another chocolate sweet, someone sneaked in a salt tablet.

It's pretty much the story of the season: just when City get your hopes up, they revert to type. The inconsistency is so marked that on Saturday it ripped the tongues out of 24,500 home fans who were clearly shell-shocked at what they were watching. The ones that ripped their shirts off at Birmingham, the ones who braved the rain and wind at QPR, who shook the place to its foundations for the win over Cardiff, were suddenly silenced by a display that bore little resemblance to any of the aforementioned.

From the word go, the team with little to play for took the game by the scruff of the neck. Marcus Tudgay was so far advanced from his right midfield position that City struggled to contain the three-pronged strike force: Luke Varney was running the show, Francis Jeffers supplying the bits and bobs - and all the while City were struggling to mark Tudgay.

Varney had a goal ruled out for handball inside 10 minutes and Marshall did well to tip a goalbound shot by Tudgay around his post.

City were showing signs of nerves at the back, Jason Shackell and Gary Doherty dancing around a static ball on the edge of their area like girls on a dance floor around their handbags.

All City had to show for their first-half efforts was a Mooney shot which hit the side netting and a Shackell header which came back off the keeper. It wasn't good, but nor was Plymouth at home and on that occasion City waited patiently for the opening and took it, while keeping the door closed at the back.

This time, they gave Jermaine Johnson the key, and he unlocked it with such simplicity that you have to wonder whether too many people had their minds on the Grand National rather than the football match. Johnson had possession wide left, where he left Lee Croft - who, let's face it, is no defender - for dead. Johnson's shot was possibly on target, but Jon Otsemobor stuck out a foot to make sure it was, and David Marshall was beaten at his near post, without a chance of changing his original movement. It will, apparently, be given as a goal for Johnson, but the record books will be wrong: it was Otsemobor's first of the season.

Bryan Gunn admitted he'd warned his players about allowing Johnson to come inside - so they allowed him to do just that. Unbelievable. In usual circumstances it would have signalled something of a charge, but the game practically died on its feet until the latter stages. Mooney felt he had a case for a penalty when Sean McAllister challenged him in the area, but TV replays suggested otherwise.

The lack of spark prompted changes, with Alan Lee replacing Croft - much to the crowd's delight. Lee had been a thorn in Birmingham's side a fortnight ago and can clearly contribute, but Gunn had, quite reasonably, stuck to the Mooney-Gow strike partnership. But it was time for change, time to rattle Wednesday; within seconds Lee was in the ref's face and as the clock wound down his influence increased. It was Lee who, on 83 minutes, rose to head Lappin's deep cross back across goal and then jumped up in celebration as David Mooney headed the ball towards goal. Mooney headed straight for the Snake Pit, arms raised, Korey Smith beside him - but they became the villains of the piece as they turned and, to their dismay, saw referee Mike Russell standing with his arm pointing away from goal. What most people had seen as a sign of a goal was now clearly one indicating a foul. Smith was adjudged to have impeded keeper Lee Grant, but a picture will show you it was, from front to back, Smith, Grant, Richard Hinds and then Mooney. Hinds appears to have done more than the others, although Smith could have been “making a back” for the keeper.

It was arguable, but it was harsh - and immediately thoughts turned to Birmingham a fortnight ago when Cameron Jerome's physical but possibly fair challenge on Marshall went unpunished.

Just to muddy the picture, Richard Wood had scooped the ball back from somewhere near the goal line, so if the ref hadn't deemed it a foul by Smith, it would have been handball, a penalty and a red card for the Wednesday defender. One extreme to the other you might say.

But a goal it wasn't and although Wednesday finished with 10 men after Tommy Spurr did an impressive job in picking up two yellows in the space of three minutes, the visitors were well worth the points.

We'd all wondered whether three home wins would have been enough to ensure safety, but one has now been blown away and on that evidence there's no telling what City will get from Watford and Reading at Carrow Road. So that leaves at least one away win needed, at either Swansea, Ipswich or Charlton.

Did hope fog our minds for this game, and will the obvious pessimism that follows effect the way we look at the remaining five games?

Such is their inconsistency you wouldn't bet for or against them; they're about as trustworthy as a 100-1 shot in the National.

Chris Lakey reports from Carrow Road


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