Below-par Baggies well beaten
ALBION suffered their worst defeat of the season as Norwich gave their survival hopes a huge shot in the arm.
City ended an uneventful half ahead thanks to Robert Snodgrass’ fine 25th-minute finish – his second goal against the Baggies this term.
And a crazy three-minute spell after the break put the Canaries completely in control.
Grant Holt punished a Ben Foster error to make it 2-0 on 62 and Albion were even further behind on 65 when Gareth McAuley deflected Ryan Bennett’s header into the net.
Norwich saved their best until last, with Jonny Howson completing the scoring with a stunning 90th-minute strike.
Steve Clarke’s side have produced many memorable performances this term – but they were simply second best at Carrow Road.
Clarke made five changes from the harsh 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on Tuesday. Foster, Steven Reid, Goran Popov, McAuley and Shane Long came in for benched quartet Boaz Myhill, Billy Jones, Gabriel Tamas and Liam Ridgewell, while Craig Dawson missed out altogether.
Sixteenth entertained eighth at Carrow Road, where the home side’s need for points was far greater than the visitors’.
Norwich entered their final home game of the season only one place and three points above the drop-zone while the Baggies were looking to cement their lofty position in the table.
The away section was a sight to behold as the 2,400-strong following got their annual fancy dress party in full swing. This year’s themes were ‘beach party’ and ‘Romelu Lukaku’, which meant the far end of the Jarrold Stand was awash with beach balls, Bermuda shorts, Belgium flags, black wigs and Lukaku facemasks!
The home fans were whipped into a frenzy by Norwich’s pitchside announcer before kick-off – and the City players responded with a high-energy start to the game.
However, Albion stood firm and began to get a foothold in proceedings.
Both teams were showing plenty of promise as they approached the last third but the final ball too often went astray, meaning chances were non-existent during the opening 20 minutes.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 24th minute that either team recorded a shot on goal. After patient Norwich approach play, Anthony Pilkington fired goalwards from 15 yards and Foster pushed the ball to safety.
Just a minute later, Norwich got their noses in front. Bennett towered above the Albion defence to head Grant Holt’s right-wing centre into the path of Wes Hoolahan, who was denied at point-blank range by Foster. But the ball fell to Snodgrass who blasted into the roof of the empty net from an acute angle.
Albion responded in the 29th minute when James Morrison surged forward and fed Markus Rosenberg, whose left-wing cross was scooped off Lukaku’s toes by John Ruddy.
The Baggies won their first corner on 35 but it came to naught, with Rosenberg’s delivery evading Sweden team-mate Jonas Olsson at the back post.
Two minutes later, Rosenberg got a shot away but his 20-yard effort was deflected to safety by Sebastien Bassong.
The Baggies had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession since falling behind but their forward momentum continually hit the buffers in and around the Canaries’ penalty area.
In fact, it was Norwich who went closest to adding the game’s second goal on 41 when Hoolahan pounced on an Olsson error and saw a ferocious 25-yard drive tipped over by Foster.
A half in which Albion had sorely failed to seriously trouble Ruddy’s goal then petered out.
Clarke rang two changes at the break, replacing Rosenberg and Reid with fit-again Chris Brunt and Jones.
It took the new-look 4-4-2 line-up less than a minute to record Albion’s first real attempt at goal of the match, but Lukaku was off target with a 15-yard snapshot.
Norwich threatened themselves on 49 when Grant won a free-kick after being upended by Olsson, but Snodgrass smashed the set-piece into the Albion wall.
Another Snodgrass free-kick produced the game’s next half-chance, with Hoolahan volleying well wide from 20 yards after Albion only half-cleared the former Leeds ace’s delivery.
Albion continued to live dangerously, with Olsson producing a fine last-ditch tackle to deny Snodgrass before Brunt made a sliding clearance after Foster fumbled a left-wing centre.
A real chance came and went on 61 when Snodgrass picked out Holt with a fine centre, only for the City skipper to head well off target.
But it WAS 2-0 a minute later – thanks to a real gift. Foster completely missed his kick as he raced out of his area to beat Holt to a Hoolahan through-ball, thus presenting the Norwich No.9 with the simplest of tap-ins.
Albion regrouped and Morrison tried his luck from 25 yards but his tame effort was gathered by Ruddy.
A minute later, if it wasn’t already, then it really was game over. Snodgrass curled a 65th-minute free-kick into the heart of the Baggies box and Bennett’s header was deflected past Foster by McAuley.
The overlapping Jones produced Albion’s next notable moment on 72, when he jinked into the box before seeing his low centre gobbled up by Ruddy before Long could pounce.
Two minutes later, Lukaku’s 25-yard rocket clipped Bennett but flew straight at Ruddy.
It was the same outcome on 75 when Long shot straight at the Norwich keeper from 18 yards.
Then, on 82, Brunt was well off target from 25 yards.
It would have been even worse for Albion seven minutes from time had Foster not pulled off a superb one-handed save to keep out Pilkington’s 18-yard shot from Holt’s pull-back.
But it DID get worse in the final minute. Howson exchanged a neat one-two with sub Luciano Becchio before curling an unstoppable 20-yard shot past the helpless Foster.
NORWICH (4-4-2): Ruddy; R Martin, Bassong, R Bennett, Garrido; Snodgrass (E Bennett 77), Johnson, Howson, Pilkington; Hoolahan (Tettey 77), Holt (Becchio 86). Subs not used: Bunn (gk), Whittaker, Jackson, Barnett.
ALBION (4-3-3): Foster; Reid (Jones HT), McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Yacob, Morrison, Mulumbu; Rosenberg (Brunt HT), Long, Lukaku (Odemwingie 80). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Tamas, Ridgewell, Dorrans.
GOALS: NORWICH – Snodgrass (25), Holt (62), R Bennett (65), Howson (90).
BOOKINGS: NORWICH – Hoolahan (foul 71). ALBION – Olsson (foul 48).
REFEREE: H Webb (West Yorkshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Youssouf Mulumbu.