McBride leads rout as Norwich fall apart on day of despair

Fulham 6 - Norwich City 0
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The Independent Football

Norwich City dared to dream, but when you dream you have to be prepared for the sometimes harsh truths that await you back in the real world. For the Canaries, that truth is relegation back to the Championship from the start of next season.

Norwich City dared to dream, but when you dream you have to be prepared for the sometimes harsh truths that await you back in the real world. For the Canaries, that truth is relegation back to the Championship from the start of next season.

It is what so many expected would happen, ever since they won promotion as champions from that division a year ago, but that will not make it any easier to stomach. The fans' buses were lined up along the Fulham Palace Road and the supporters will have rumbled home to East Anglia last night with plenty to digest.

That journey, a long one at the best of times, will have felt interminable after this disappointment, although a six-goal defeat was a little harsh.

Once the third goal had gone in, from Zat Knight's right foot, their spirit left them as quickly as air out of a supporter's inflatable lifebelt - appropriate for the occasion - witnessed at the Putney Stand.

What will frustrate all those attached to the Norfolk club is that they had appeared to have done the hard work before kick-off yesterday, only to throw it all away against a Fulham side with nothing to play for, but which ended up with a season's record win and almost equalled Arsenal's seven-goal haul against Everton last week.

However, Delia Smith, the club's majority shareholder and director, sounded upbeat about the future. She said: "The positive thing is we have sound finances.

"We don't have to sell players. We hope to hang on to them and give it another go. We were the poor kids on the block in a rich man's world but we'll be all right."

In recent weeks, Nigel Worthington's men had gathered 13 points out of a possible 18, including wins against Manchester United and Newcastle, to extricate themselves from the relegation zone. All they then had to do was win this fixture and their Premiership future was assured, no matter what anyone else did.

Simple, then, but after a promising start that brought plenty of possession and a penalty claim, not given, against Knight for handball and then obstruction, they never threatened to get the goals that would have made them masters of their own destiny.

One other statistic was highly pertinent to Norwich's chances of success by the river, and that was their failure to win away all season after 18 previous trips on the road. They somehow had to break that duck at Craven Cottage.

They made a bright start that should have yielded at least one goal, from their captain Craig Fleming, who found himself unmarked at the far post after 17 minutes. Unfortunately he is a centre-half and not a centre-forward and he miscued his header sideways.

By then, the visitors were already a goal down. Tomasz Radzinski, preferred to Andy Cole, slipped the ball to Brian McBride, who left his marker too easily and slid his shot between Robert Green's legs. Fulham made Norwich's task twice as hard 10 minutes before the break when Papa Bouba Diop stepped up 25 yards out and curled his free-kick beyond the goalkeeper.

The shots then rained in on the man who might have to try to keep his England prospects alive while playing in the Championship, but he did his reputation no harm with successive saves from Steed Malbranque and Moritz Volz within a few minutes of each other. More impressive still was when McBride latched on to Volz's cross six yards out and Green got fingertips on the ball to nudge it on to the crossbar and away to safety.

His resistance was honourable but futile, and the second half gave Fulham a four-goal haul.

Nine minutes after the interval came the final, crushing blow. Failing to clear a corner despite two attempts, the ball dropped to Knight who lashed home his shot from 15 yards.

Thereafter it was a procession as Norwich knew they had to rely on other clubs doing them a favour to keep them up. But the Cottagers were still hungry and although Louis Boa Morte was forced wide of Green's goal he set up Malbranque for a goal that went in off Gary Holt's outstretched leg. McBride's second was also well-taken before Andy Cole back-heeled in the last.

Goals: McBride (10) 1-0; Diop (35) 2-0; Knight (54) 3-0; Malbranque (72) 4-0; McBride (85) 5-0; Cole (90) 6-0 Fulham (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Bocanegra; Diop; Malbranque, Clark, Boa Morte (Cole, 86); McBride, Radzinski. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Pembridge, Rehman, Pearce.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Helveg (Jonson, h-t), Fleming, Shackell, Drury; Bentley (Svensson, 59), Francis, Safri (Holt, 33), Huckerby; McKenzie, Ashton Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Jonson, Charlton.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire). Booking: Norwich Helveg.

Attendance: 21,927.

Man of the Match: Malbranque.