x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Nerves at Norwich City are starting to show

The defeat of the Premier League leaders is a distant memory, with league and cup form falling Chris Hughton's men need to improve or face a relegation battle.

Luton's Scott Rendell, right, celebrates his goal against Norwich, a team five leagues above them. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Luton's Scott Rendell, right, celebrates his goal against Norwich, a team five leagues above them. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

November 17 must feel like a long time ago for Norwich City fans after Saturday's shock FA Cup defeat at the hands of non-league Luton Town.

For on that date, only two months ago, they deservedly beat Manchester United, the Premier League leaders, 1-0 at Carrow Road thanks to Anthony Pilkington's goal.

Yet wind forward the clock to Saturday evening and Chris Hughton's men had been defeated by a side in the fifth tier of English football, the Blue Square Premier.

Most worrying for Hughton was the fact that Luton were full value for the victory. It was not one of those occasions where the home side dominate, waste countless opportunities and the plucky opponents then somehow find the net on their one foray into the other half of the pitch.

Norwich struggled to create chances against a well-organised Luton, and it was only when nerves set in during the closing minutes, when the non-league side began to realise the enormity of their impending achievement in becoming the first team from outside the top four divisions to knock out a side from the top tier of English football since 1989, that they put the visitors' goal under pressure.

Hughton was understandably distraught at the result, but the bigger concern is the slide his team are on.

They have not won in the league since December 15, losing five of their last six games, and have slipped to 13th in the table.

There is still a seven-point gap to the relegation zone, so it is not quite panic stations yet, but if the poor run continues much longer then it will become an issue.

Blackpool, two seasons ago, were the most recent example of a team who fell away after a strong first half to the season, and ended up being relegated.

A Tottenham Hotspur side, sore from their own cup shock at the hands of Leeds United, will make for tough opponents tomorrow night at home, but Saturday's trip to Queens Park Rangers could well define how the second half of the season unfolds.

Triumph against the bottom side and the pressure is off a little and the recent poor run can be viewed as just a blip. Lose, and a nervous end to the campaign, and a relegation battle that appeared unlikely on November 17, could well become a reality.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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