TOWN paid the price for failing to take their chances as Norwich showed the ruthlessness which looks like taking them back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
If Lee Clark’s side can reproduce the kind of football played in the first half over a longer period – and rediscover their cutting edge in front of goal – then there’s still a great chance they could be in the promotion mix.
They made a storming start to a highly-charged contest thanks to Neal Trotman’s second-minute goal.
And Danny Drinkwater, Gary Roberts, Lee Novak, Anthony Pilkington and Trotman all came close.
But just as they did in Norfolk back in December, leaders Norwich, now seven points in the clear after Leeds lost 1-0 at Southampton, gradually got back into the game, and shattered Town’s unbeaten home league record with three goals in 17 minutes.
The strikes which downed Town followed a similar pattern, with low crosses leading to close-range finishes, top scorer Grant Holt levelling with his 27th of the season in the 69th minute before substitute Stephen Elliott claimed his first goals for the club.
It meant Republic of Ireland frontman Elliot took the honours over Trotman in the battle of the on-loan Preston players.
But Town’s centre-back can still be encouraged by his contribution, with his second goal for the club, nodded home at the near post from Pilkington’s corner from the Town left, being followed by a series of clearing tackles, blocks and headers.
What a shame that Gary Doherty, another Republic international, and Michael Nelson were just as effective as Trotman and Town skipper Peter Clarke in the heart of the Norwich rearguard.
They were certainly kept busy as Town, with Roberts to the fore, tore into their visitors from the off.
It took a vital last-ditch tackle from ex-Hartlepool man Nelson to rob Town top scorer Jordan Rhodes as he shaped to shoot from Roberts’ incisive seventh-minute cross.
Then Rhodes had a decent-looking penalty shout from a Nelson challenge turned down before Drinkwater played a nice one-two with Pilkington and brought a smart save from on-loan Newcastle goalkeeper Fraser Forster in the 11th minute.
Town were impressing, and Novak shot narrowly wide after good approach play by Michael Collins before Pilkington’s 20th-minute shot was punched away.
Novak put a low shot right across the face after robbing Doherty in the 25th minute, and Trotman’s venomous 33rd-minute volley was only diverted off it’s course to goal when it smacked into Darel Russell, who appeared to know little about his vital block.
Norwich’s only first-half chances of note both fell to Holt, who was wide with a shot, then a header, but the powerful Cumbrian was to make amends.
While Town continued to push forward early in the second half, with Novak having a close-range flick and Roberts a bobbling shot saved, Holt was clinical when his next chance arrived.
After Korey Smith and Michael Rose linked down the left, Holt timed his run well to meet Wes Hoolahan’s cross and finish gleefully from six yards out.
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Collins shot wide from Novak’s 71st-minute lay-off, but instead of regaining their lead, Town were soon behind, with Elliott, brought on for Chris Martin, notching in the 74th.
This time Hoolahan fed Holt, who held off Dean Heffernan’s attempted challenge and centred for Elliott to apply the finishing touch.
Town substitute Theo Robinson almost caught Norwich napping with a long-range drive which had Forster scrambling to tip over, and Pilkington tested the keeper with a right-foot curler in the 78th minute.
Then Novak sprinted onto Rose’s misplaced backpass and rounded Forster only to be forced away from goal by Norwich’s desperate defence.
And Town’s hopes were ended when Elliott slid home his second of the game in the 85th minute after Holt picked out Simon Lappin, whose pull-back was coolly dispatched.