By Oliver Platt at Carrow Road
Paul Lambert acknowledged after his side's 3-0 defeat to Liverpool that his Norwich City side might just be feeling the effects of their first season back in the Premier League.
"It's been a really hard season. We've had to be right on our game to get any points whatsoever," Lambert admitted.
Flashing across the rain-soaked Carrow Road pitch on Saturday between the drained figures in yellow shirts was a little red blur of energy.
If David Fox and Elliott Ward (twice) looked as if the thought of their upcoming summer holidays had distracted them from the task at hand in the build-up to Liverpool's three goals, Luis Suarez played with enough verve to suggest he had just returned from his to put the Canaries to the sword.
The Uruguayan's tumultuous season has been well-documented. Paris Saint-Germain manager Carlo Ancelotti expressed his admiration of Suarez this week, and the French capital must seem an increasingly attractive prospect for a player who has to endure the taunts of opposition supporters game after game in the Premier League.
|STAR OF THE SHOW
| PLAYER RATING
|9.0||The Uruguayan bagged a simply brilliant hat-trick. His chances may have come courtesy of Norwich mistakes but he still had plenty to do in order to take advantage of them, his first finish in particular superbly taken on his left foot. Saved his best, though, for last, chipping Ruddy from just inside the Norwich half to complete a wonderful treble.|
That is not surprising – whether he made a terrible, inexcusable mistake during that match against Manchester United or not, very few believe Suarez is truly a racist and to have that label repeatedly thrown at you by adrenaline-fuelled supporters must be deeply unpleasant.
The Norwich crowd were not the first and they will certainly not be the last to engage in the baiting.
If there is one compliment Liverpool can be paid in their handling of the Evra situation – because in general, their approach was shambolic – it is that they stood behind their player. Often, that was ill-advised; their Suarez emblazoned t-shirts, for example, were a hopeless misjudgement. The loyalty they showed will give Kenny Dalglish the hope, however, that Suarez might choose to behave in kind and refuse the advances of interested parties this summer.
Dalglish insisted that Suarez was "very comfortable" at Liverpool and while he may not enjoy the chanting, it certainly did not seem to subtract from his performance.
What was noticeable about Suarez's display was that he did not try to do everything himself. Perhaps due to Liverpool's attacking deficiencies this season, the former Ajax star has occasionally attempted to be a playmaker as well as a goalscorer and while he has generally played well, that division of his labour has surely cost him in terms of the time he has been able to allocate to lurking within shooting range.
With Steven Gerrard occupying the space behind him against Norwich, Suarez was tasked purely with breaking the offside trap by playing on the shoulder of the last defender. That was often Ward, who endured an atrocious afternoon. Gerrard took advantage of Fox's error to supply the pass for Suarez's first goal but the responsibility for the next two rested primarily on the defender's shoulders.
Kyle Naughton's pass after 27 minutes was not perfectly weighted but Ward certainly should have been capable of at least thumping the ball into the safety of the stands.
Instead, he allowed Suarez to intercept before mistiming a timid tackle that left his opponent clear to advance towards John Ruddy. The Reds forward's second half coup de grace was astoundingly executed from more than 50 yards and again came as a result of Ward's tendency to panic when Suarez entered his peripheral vision.
|66/1||Luis Suarez is 66/1 with Paddy Power to score a hat-trick in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.|
Sometimes, and particularly at this stage of the season, football matches can be won simply by making less mistakes than your opponent and employing a player good enough to take advantage of the mishaps that do arise.
In Suarez, they have one such player and in Gerrard another but that is not enough for a club maintaining aspirations like Liverpool's, particularly when the latter's recent injury record is taken into account.
Liverpool have invested their time, money and often their reputation in Suarez. On Saturday, he showed he was worth it and it is surely inconceivable that they might cut those ties now.