Norwich again fail to finish

Football: Norwich City 3 Reading 3
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The Independent Online

Norwich City 3 Reading 3

It was pantomime season at Carrow Road, with Robert Chase starring as the wicked chairman, Reading's joint-manager Jimmy Quinn as the sorcerer, and Norwich's blundering defence quite clearly the ugly sisters.

Norwich's new Prince Charming, manager Gary Megson, found the plot entirely distasteful, however, as his performers threw away a two-goal advantage to surrender what seemed certain victory to disappoint a supportive audience.

Last season, as caretaker manager, Megson conjured just one draw from five League games. As a replacement for Martin O'Neill, he has one point from three League fixtures this time.

Chase was abused by the crowd again, although they might have remembered that their palatial stadium is down to the man they vilify, as is the under-soil heating that allowed the game to take place at all in arctic conditions.

But the Norwich faithful have seen their relegated pet Canaries slip from second to mid-table and this performance hardly gives them heart for a happy New Year.

Jan Molby, on loan from Liverpool for a month, provided a few deft touches in the Norwich midfield but, unfit and overweight, the action largely passed him by and he was taken off with 20 minutes to go.

Worryingly, the Norwich striker Andy Johnson had been carried off nine minutes earlier and could be out for over a fortnight after a clash with Phil Parkinson damaged the same ankle that kept him out for eight games until his return at Portsmouth only last week.

After Johnson's close-range headed equaliser, Norwich were prematurely anticipating a standing ovation when the excellent Neil Adams provided the opportunities for Ashley Ward and then Robert Fleck to take Norwich 3- 1 ahead in seven busy minutes after half-time.

It was the 61st-minute appearance of Quinn and Dylan Kerr, in place of Reading's opening scorer, James Lambert, and Keith McPherson, however, that provided the final twist.

Quinn's first telling contribution was a delightful back-heel for Nogan to drive home in the 72nd minute, and when Reading were awarded a free- kick dangerously close to the Norwich area 11 minutes later, Quinn conned their defence by selling a dummy along with Kerr, but instead floating a superb curler past Norwich's stranded goalkeeper, Bryan Gunn. Megson was not amused.

"I've got to be careful what I say," he said. "That was a disgrace. We had enough chances to win three games. To come away with only one point is terrible.

"We didn't defend properly, we were a shambles for their third, and even when we got to 3-1 we didn't kill them off. The players could be fitter and Molby had obviously not played for a long time, but these are just excuses, we should have won by a street."

Somehow, you got the feeling that Megson may be holding auditions soon for something rather better than just strolling players.

Goals: Lambert (14) 0-1; Johnson (20) 1-1; Ward (47) 2-1; Fleck (51) 3-1; Nogan (72) 3-2; Kerr (83) 3-3.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Gunn; Bowen, Newsome, Prior, Ullathorne; Adams, Molby (Newman, 70), Johnson (Goss, 61), O'Neill; Fleck, Ward. Substitute not used: Scott.

Reading (4-4-2): Hammond; Brown, Lambert (Kerr, 61), Wdowczyk, Williams; McPherson (Quinn, 61), Gilkes (Jones, 78), Parkinson, Morley; Nogan, Holsgrove.

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough).

Bookings: Norwich: Newsome. Reading: Lambert, Nogan.

Man of the match: Adams. Attendance: 13,556.