Manchester City's hopes of regaining the Premier League title suffered a potentially grievous blow as they were held to a goalless draw by struggling Norwich at Carrow Road.
The unpredictable 2014 champions dominated possession and territory but still did not have the urgency nor invention to pierce a well-organised Canaries' rearguard.
Sergio Aguero's first half snapshot, well saved by John Ruddy at full stretch was the nearest they came to scoring as they had to settle frustratingly for remaining fourth in the title race, still nine points behind leaders Leicester City.
It was billed as a must-win encounter for Manuel Pellegrini's City, whose title charge had been stalled by winning just twice in the previous six games.
So, afterwards, it was hard to escape the sense of deflation in the City camp as they contemplated how perhaps their last realistic chance of winning the title had disappeared with this flat performance.
"We are going to need a crazy season to get even more crazy but we will keep going," City goalkeeper Joe Hart, trying to put on a brave face, told BBC Sport. "We weren't good enough."
Pellegrini, though, was not about to concede the title just yet, with City now a point behind third-placed Arsenal and four points adrift of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
"We are disappointed. Of course we should create more in the last third. We were static up front.
"Every time that you drop points it is harder but you must continue thinking in a positive way. We must always try to win the title while we mathematically can."
It could have been even worse for City though with Norwich coming closest to breaking the stalemate with on-loan Patrick Bamford, making his first start for the club, hammering a brilliant half-volley against the crossbar just before halftime.
The point, though crucial to Norwich's fight against relegation, still leaves them in the bottom three on 25 points, one point ahead of Newcastle United, nine points clear of doomed Aston Villa and the same as 17th-placed Sunderland.
Manager Alex Neil was delighted with his players' commitment. "We will see at the end of the season how significant that point was. I couldn't ask any more from our players in terms of effort and endeavour," he said.
Norwich's next two home games are against Newcastle and Sunderland.
Also this morning Graziano Pelle ended his goal-scoring drought, striking twice to enable Southampton to repel a second-half fightback from Stoke and claim a 2-1 win that leapfrogs them into seventh place.
The Italian striker had gone 12 league matches since the start of November without a goal but a double in the first half-hour of the mid-table clash ensured the end of Stoke's four-game unbeaten run.
Pelle flicked in a Steven Davis corner with a neat header after 11 minutes before he benefited from fine approach work from Dusan Tadic in the 29th to make it 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium.
After Tadic missed a golden chance to seal the points before halftime, Stoke roared back with Marko Arnautovic scoring once and almost earning an equaliser but Southampton clung on despite Sadio Mane being sent off in the dying seconds for a challenge on Erik Pieters.
In this morning's third game Bournemouth beat Swansea 3-2 to climb to 13th.