West Bromwich Albion 0 Norwich City 1
West Bromwich Albion were playing sweet music when Tony Mowbray took over but they are now badly out of tune after banking one point from four games.
Mowbray was on a real high as he marked his first game in charge with a convincing victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Since then, it has all gone flat and a miserable run of results has left them seven points adrift of the second automatic promotion spot.
Bryan Robson had suffered just two defeats when his Albion reign came to an end by their failure to beat Southend United. Mowbray, since moving in from Hibernian, has now lost three games in four but he remains upbeat and confident they can get the 87 points he feels are necessary to return to the Premiership.
But a considerable amount of work needs to be done to keep the fans, who booed the players off the pitch on Saturday, coming through the turnstiles. There were 18,718 watching as, predictably, striker Rob Earnshaw — sold to Norwich in January for #3million — marked his return to The Hawthorns with the match-winning goal.
Albion could argue they hit the woodwork six times as they battled hard to turn the tide and make a determined charge on Cardiff City's top spot in the table. But they failed to find the target in a match they should have won with midfielder Darren Carter admitting afterwards a few stern words had been spoken in the dressing room.
"It has been the same story for our last three or four games," said Carter. "We know we have to put things right — and quickly. The gaffer must be getting tired of saying we failed to take our chances. We aren't playing badly. We know the chances we are creating will start to go into the net."
Albion hit the woodwork for the first time in the 36th minute when Steve Watson fired in a shot against the foot of the right-hand post after a Jonathan Greening effort was deflected into his path. Then, just seconds later, there was a second miss when Paul McShane crossed and Kevin Phillips beat goalkeeper Paul Gallacher only to see his strike hit the post.
Mowbray's men were unlucky for a third time seconds later when the hard-working Jason Koumas lashed in a 22-yarder that rattled the Norwich crossbar. The woodwork saved the Canaries for the fourth time in the 73rd minute when Curtis Davies powered in a terrific header to a Carter corner, hitting the crossbar.
There were five minutes left when Koumas blasted in a free-kick from 30 yards only for the ball to hit the woodwork for a fifth time. And Albion's tale of woe was completed in the dying seconds as a Greening shot took a deflection off Norwich midfielder Dickson Etuhu and the woodwork was hit for a sixth time.
The only time the ball did find the net was in the 58th minute when the industrious Earnshaw took his tally for the season to 11 goals as he punished poor defending.
Jurgen Colin's pinpoint cross from the right found the little Welsh international and he was able to steer his looping header to the left of goalkeeper Russell Hoult.
It left Norwich manager Peter Grant celebrating a fourth win in six games at the helm, having suffered just one defeat since he took over from Nigel Worthington. That is the kind of run Mowbray is desperate to clock up but he feels time is on his side and there is no need to panic.
"There is a long way to go in the promotion race," he said. "We all know there is a lot to be done but there is belief in the team. We aren't that far away."
The manager said he could find no fault with the committment of his players and he reaffirmed their determination to claim a top two spot in the table. But missed chances will not bring back the missing fans.
It is goals that count and Albion must be more positive in attack if they are to avoid having another disappointing season.
They started well enough against a City side with only one away success to their credit this term, with the unmarked Watson steering his early header wide to a cross from McShane.
Then Gallacher did well to hold a hard, low shot from Koumas before rejoining the action to hold a deflected effort from Greening.
After the break Diomansy Kamara headed a cross from Nathan Ellington over the bar and, moments later, Canaries defender Jason Shackell was in position to head away a goalbound strike from Carter.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2) Hoult; McShane (Hodgkiss 83), Perry, Davies Albrechtsen; Watson (Ellington 63) Greening, Carter, Koumas; Phillips, Kamara.
NORWICH CITY (4-3-3) Gallacher; Colin, Shackell, Dublin, Drury; Robinson, Etuhu, Safri; Hughes (McVeigh 86), Earnshaw (Thorne 90) Huckerby.
Referee: Graham Laws (Tyne & Wear)