The booing, thin and bitter, began echoing around the stadium; it was the sound of opportunity being tossed away. Having achieved the running start to the season that has nearly always been beyond David Moyes's teams, everyone at Goodison recognises that Everton have a glittering chance to make the Champions' League, which for footballing and financial reasons would transform the club.
Arsenal are not themselves, Tottenham are stumbling and, as the pre-match meals were consumed in the Dixie Dean and Brian Labone Suites, the flat-screen televisions were showing West Bromwich Albion driving their way into third.
In their last seven games, Everton have dropped 13 points, against Wigan, Queen's Park Rangers, Reading and now Norwich. Moyes admitted afterwards that he was not especially confident going into this game. He was missing plenty of players, Phil Neville and Marouane Fellaini chief among them. Norwich had come to Merseyside buoyed by their victory over Manchester United at Carrow Road while Everton were still digesting the bitter taste of becoming the first club this season to lose to Reading.
"It was always going to be a tight game and I couldn't see us winning it that comfortably," said the Everton manager. "If we had to chase the game, I didn't think we had a lot to chase it with." There were only the four minutes of stoppage time to chase it with when Sébastien Bassong, who had marshalled Norwich's defence masterfully, rose to meet Javier Garrido's free-kick.
The ball hung long and high in the air like a small, yellow moon, and Moyes thought that both Tim Howard and John Heitinga ought to have made a better fist of clearing it before it connected with Bassong's head and crashed down from the underside of the crossbar. Grant Holt shovelled it into the net but it had already crossed the line and Chris Hughton's side would return to Norfolk with an unbeaten run that stretches to seven matches.
However, it is doubtful whether his goalkeeper, John Ruddy, who spent five years at Everton during which he played a single game, will be fit for Wednesday's game at Southampton. Ruddy received an ovation from the old stadium when a thigh injury forced him off a few minutes from the end, a time when Moyes was thinking that Everton had come through some sustained pressure and might end up extending their lead. Ruddy had saved two-handed from Leighton Baines to ensure they did not and then, while he received treatment, the game swung entirely the other way.
For a manager striving to take Everton into the Champions' League, Moyes's programme notes carried all the bleakness of late November. "We are now into that long, difficult winter period that all clubs have to endure in this country," he had written, and this was a long, difficult slog of a match.
It did not begin that way. The contest was one minute and 15 seconds old when Leon Osman stroked a shot past Ruddy's post and then England's newest midfielder found Bryan Oviedo, starting his first League game, with a long pass the Costa Rican pulled back for Steven Naismith to drive into the roof of the net.
That was as good as it got. Norwich's resistance stiffened and in the second half they looked increasingly the likelier scorers. Holt might have broken through when he hesitated for a moment in the mistaken belief he was offside, and Anthony Pilkington, the match-winner against Manchester United, had his chance palmed away by Howard.
Because this was the last time this year a game would kick off at Goodison at 3pm on a Saturday, Everton produced a retro programme with the look of, and some articles produced for, a 4-1 win over Norwich in April 1974. It would be a season neither club would want to emulate. Norwich, because they finished last, and Everton because the seventh place they achieved then would seem an opportunity missed come May.
Everton: (4-2-3-1) Howard; Jagielka, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Osman, Hitzlsperger; Naismith (Vellios, 90), Pienaar, Oviedo; Jelavic.
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy (Bunn, 82); Whittaker, R Bennett, Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass (Jackson, 89), Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington; Hoolahan (Morison, 75); Holt.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Bassong (Norwich)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content