Norwich suffer defeat to United as Premier League relegation looms
Given Norwich City have made a habit of squandering opportunities to advance it came as no surprise they tamely folded in a damaging 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday.
City could have hauled themselves out of the bottom three and turned up the heat on relegation rivals Sunderland and Newcastle, with a win at Carrow Road.
Instead Juan Mata's 72nd minute strike, coupled with Sunderland's comeback 3-2 win against Chelsea, means they will be relegated next Wednesday if the Black Cats win at home to Everton.
That may come as merciful relief to Norwich supporters. Alex Neil's squad appear to be stumbling back towards the Championship in a stupor of defensive errors and fitful attacking urges.
Cameron Jerome rose unmarked but headed at David De Gea inside the opening five minutes. That was as good as it got for the Canaries, who succumbed when Sebastien Bassong appeared to misjudge the flight of a clearance that invited Wayne Rooney to race into the Norwich area and square for Mata to apply the cool finish.
Neil introduced both Dieumerci Mbokani and Patrick Bamford in the aftermath but De Gea remained a virtual spectator in a defeat that was every bit as tame as many the Canaries' have served up since festive promise turned to cold reality in 2016.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK John Ruddy, 6 -- Another watching brief for the most part but left exposed by Mata and Rooney, who combined for Manchester United's second half winner.
DF Ivo Pinto, 6 -- Encouraging display from the Portuguese defender, who finally looks to be getting to grips with the physical side of the Premier League. Sadly, it may have come too late.
DF Russell Martin, 6 -- Unable to hold up Rooney when he drove into the box to provide the assist for Manchester United's goal.
DF Sebastien Bassong, 4 -- Looks a player totally bereft of confidence. Lost the ball in conceding a goal to Sunderland at home last time out at home. Here, he misjudged the flight of the pass that allowed Rooney to race in behind for the key incision.
DF Martin Olsson, 6 -- The only one in Norwich colours who tried to inject any sense of urgency early in the second-half with a couple of bursts down the left-hand flank and crosses.
MF Jonny Howson, 6 -- Caught in possession on a couple of occasions and then in the closing stages suffered knee ligament damage that will end his season.
MF Gary O'Neil, 6 -- Chased and harried but had to get through a prodigious amount of work with United dominant in midfield.
MF Nathan Redmond, 6 -- Set-up Jerome for a golden early chance. A handful of other counter-attacking forays but not the influence of the previous week at Arsenal.
MF Wes Hoolahan, 5 -- Peripheral figure, in truth, with Norwich unable to work the Republic of Ireland international into those dangerous pockets of space in front of the United backline.
MF Robbie Brady, 5 -- Started the season in fine form, ends it looking like a pale imitation of the same player. Minimal impact.
FW Cameron Jerome, 4 -- Headed at De Gea when unmarked inside the opening five minutes. The miss seemed to affect his performance thereafter.
FW Dieumerci Mbokani, 5 -- Introduced for his muscular presence for the final 30 minutes but there was no grandstand finish.
MF Graham Dorrans, N/R -- Rare outing when Jonny Howson became Norwich's latest injury casualty.
FW Patrick Bamford, N/R -- Chelsea loanee's stint will not be remembered fondly in Norfolk.
Paddy is the chief Norwich City correspondent for media group Archant. He has covered the Canaries for more than 10 years. Twitter: @paddyjdavitt.