The game is almost up for Norwich. In a week meant to herald the start of a great escape, an insipid defeat by a Brighton team heading in a different direction leaves them almost resigned to their fate.
Leandro Trossard’s smart finish was enough to seal the victory that almost certainly assures Brighton’s Premier League survival for a third successive season – they look good to match the club’s best period in the top-flight between 1979-83.
How Norwich must wish for such stability. Even with fixtures against fellow strugglers Watford and West Ham this week a third relegation in seven seasons appears inevitable.
“It’s a tough day for us – we knew it was more or less our last chance to be back in the mix,” Daniel Farke said. “The story of our game was the story of our season, we didn’t find the cutting edge and we then make a big mistake.”
Norwich’s form since the restart had given supporters little reason for optimism, with the 4-0 capitulation at Arsenal last Wednesday leaving them almost needing snookers to survive. Before the kick-off Farke insisted there was still hope his side could conjure up a miracle with six matches left but opted to leave the top scorer Teemu Pukki and the rising youngster Todd Cantwell on the bench as he made four changes to the team
who surrendered so meekly at the Emirates.
Brighton’s victory over Arsenal and a draw against Leicester had eased their own relegation concerns but with a tricky run-in that includes home games against Liverpool on Wednesday and Manchester City on Saturday, it was important to take another step towards safety. Graham Potter also made four changes following the 3-0 home defeat by Manchester United, with the top-scorer Neal Maupay restored alongside Aaron Connolly.
Connolly came close to opening the scoring within three minutes after Norwich failed to clear a free-kick but his effort went narrowly over. Brighton were second-best yet aside from some neat touches around the box, the home side never seriously threatened.
Trossard thought he should have been awarded a penalty after a coming together with Max Aarons, only for the referee, Stuart Attwell, to wave away his appeal. There was nothing Tim Krul could do to prevent the winger from touching home Aaron Mooy’s precise cross from the right just after the drinks break. Not for the first time this season Norwich were the architects of their own downfall, Timm Klose having given the ball away in Brighton’s half.
It was a surprise when Norwich emerged for the second half unchanged given the lack of threat coming from Josip Drmic and Ondrej Duda. Dan Burn came within inches of doubling the lead when Mooy’s free-kick came off his back and diverted just past the post.
Cantwell was sent out to warm-up but Pukki, who was taken off at half-time against Arsenal having also been left out of the home defeat by Everton last month, initially remained in his seat. The striker scored 29 times in the Championship last season and would surely have thrived on a cross from Jamal Lewis that flashed across goal.
Farke decided to roll the dice in the 67th minute, just after Drmic had registered Norwich’s first shot on target. On came Pukki, Cantwell and the 19-year-old Adam Idah in the hope of rescuing something, although Yves Bissouma almost sealed the points for the visitors, forcing a save from Krul.
Norwich had to wait until the third minute of injury time to create an opportunity, when Idah’s header came back off the inside of the post, summing up a deeply frustrating match. As if contemplating what might have been, a disconsolate Cantwell remained on the pitch deep in thought almost 10 minutes after the final whistle.
The victory means Brighton have picked up as many points as they did in the whole of last season under Chris Hughton, although Potter warned they are still not over the line. “It’s a great win but I don’t think it makes us safe,” he said.
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