A VIBRANT Norwich City performance against Liverpool wasn't rewarded as they lost 3-2 to the league leaders at Carrow Road.
The visitors sprung out of the box as early goals from Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez gave them the advantage, but Gary Hooper's poacher's effort early in the second period offered hope.
Sterling's second, a fortunate deflected strike, opened up the two-goal cushion again but Robert Snodgrass' headed goal was fully deserved and set up a tense finale.
Neil Adams - managing his first game at Carrow Road as first-team boss - went all out to try and salvage something from the game, but the closest they came was through Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
With just three games left, the final result could be damaging in the context of Norwich City's season but the cheers on the final whistle showed the fans' appreciation for a brave display against Liverpool, who have now won 11 games in a row in their pursuit of a first league title for 24 years.
Hooper replaced van Wolfswinkel in the Canaries’ only change from last weekend’s defeat at Fulham, while Liverpool replaced the suspended Jordan Henderson and the injured Daniel Sturridge with Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva.
The visitors’ confidence was obvious in the opening minutes and they got the early goal that would have settled any nerves on just four minutes.
Philippe Coutinho cut in from the left to slide a ball into the path of Sterling, who skipped inside Bradley Johnson and fired home via the aid of a deflection off Michael Turner.
It was the ideal start for the champions elect but Hooper’s flicked header from Jonny Howson’s cross reminded them that Neil Adams’ team were still in the game.
had to stand firm to deny Joe Allen on nine minutes, however, and Liverpool got their second two minutes later.
Sterling’s speed earned him space on the left and he picked out Suarez, who nipped in behind the City defence and pushed his shot beyond Ruddy into the far corner.
Hooper nearly pounced when Liverpool struggled to clear a corner as the Canaries rallied, with their performance levels more than matching those of their opponents – but it was Liverpool who held the crucial two-goal lead at half-time.
HALF-TIME: Norwich City 0-2 Liverpool
Suarez’ excellent cross-field ball found Coutinho in space four minutes into the second period, but Sterling couldn’t make the most of his pull-back, shooting inches over the bar.
City got the shot in the arm they needed on 54 minutes, however – Steven Whittaker’s deep cross forced Simon Mignolet off his line, but Johnson beat the Liverpool ‘keeper to the ball.
It then fell perfectly for Hooper to slot home his first goal since Boxing Day and in turn reenergise the home crowd.
They cheered when Suarez curled an effort narrowly wide of Ruddy’s goal but a swift Liverpool counter-attack on 61 minutes re-established their two goal cushion.
Johnson’s misplaced pass across was pounced upon by Sterling, who started the move that he then finished in fortunate fashion, with his deflected shot looping over Ruddy into the net.
Despite that bitter blow, Adams’ team continued to push forward and had half-chances through Nathan Redmond and captain Russell Martin to get back into the game once more.
It was Snodgrass who saw his opportunity reap City’s second goal on 77 minutes, though – the Scotland international rose to meet Martin Olsson’s cross, with his header creeping just inside Mignolet’s post.
Substitute van Wolfswinkel then peeled away at the back post to meet Redmond’s delivery moments later as the momentum swung in the home team’s favour once more, but Liverpool’s goalkeeper was this time a match.
The introduction of Daniel Agger signalled Liverpool’s intent to see the game out but they almost got a fourth when Suarez was denied by Ruddy and Lucas saw his shot deflect wide.
FULL-TIME: Norwich City 2-3 LiverpoolGOALS
: Gary Hooper (54), Robert Snodgrass (77) - Reds
: Raheem Sterling (4, 62), Luis Suarez (11)
: Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin (c), Turner, Olsson; Johnson; Howson, Fer (Josh Murphy 78); Snodgrass; Redmond, Hooper (van Wolfswinkel 78). Subs not used
: Bunn (GK), Gutierrez, Garrido, R Bennett, Tettey.
: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan, Gerrard (c), Lucas, Allen (Agger 81), Sterling, Coutinho (Moses 76), Suarez. Subs not used
: Jones (GK), Toure, Cissokho, Alberto, Aspas.
: Andre Marriner