Tuesday, May 15, 2012
So Paul Lambert didn’t win the manager-of-the-season award. Oh well…
If I’m honest it’s hard to make much of a case against Alan Pardew the way these things work in the top flight.
Even if we’d held on for victory at Arsenal last week we’d probably have needed a win over Manchester City as well for the Newcastle boss to have been denied.
And you also couldn’t argue against Brendan Rodgers after Swansea finished as the highest promoted side.
But if there was an award for the manager of (exactly) the last 1,000 days, however – now that’s a very different matter.
Pardew took on a useful enough squad. Okay, maybe not one that was considered to be in the running for a Champions League place, but one that could still expect to survive in the Premier League.
Lambert, however… unless you’re a Norwich City supporter it’s virtually impossible to appreciate just what has been achieved over the last two years and nine months.
Does this line-up ring any bells?
Price, O’Connor, Dickson, Phillips, Bennett (Osborne 28), Saunders (Taylor 87), Court, Weston (Kabba 76), Hunt, Foster, Wood?
You’d be forgiven for not recognising too many, if any, of those names, but they were the Brentford players who Lambert and 1,800 City supporters watched beat us a lot more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggested in August 2009. Less than three years later to return to London and give the third best side in the country the fright of their lives with a line-up that perhaps was as unfamiliar to many Arsenal fans as the Brentford selection was to us… no other club’s fortunes have ever been transformed in such a short time.
And I think Lambert maybe still doesn’t appreciate the extent of what he has achieved will be remembered – even allowing for his comments on the pitch at Portsmouth 12 months ago: “I think it’s unbelievable what’s happened here in the last two years. It’s a miracle, that’s what it is, it’s a miracle.”
I didn’t catch all of his appearance on Radio Norfolk on Friday evening, but one comment leapt out.
Undoubtedly he was playing things down when referring to a future managerial succession at Carrow Road thus: “When the next guy comes in he’ll be equally loved and I’ll be forgotten.”
I don’t think so. There has been previous speculation over managers leaving Carrow Road for supposedly greener grass elsewhere – Mike Walker and John Bond in the last 35 years – but nothing has been debated with quite the same frequency, or depth, of Lambert’s imminent move to Celtic.
Or Burnley. Or West Ham. Or maybe another side who play in claret and blue whose name I wouldn‘t want to mention for fear of tempting fate.
Now he will go one day – that’s inevitable.
And if it was to be as soon as this summer I’d be disappointed, but I’d wish him well in the future because he would leave the Canaries in a much better shape than the shambles he found them in at Griffin Park.
But “I’ll be forgotten?” Hardly. (Maybe, but only if we go down next season with fewer points than Derby managed in 2008 and then start 2013/14 by frittering away parachute money with ludicrously expensive signings along the lines of Jimmy Bullard and then sink to the bottom third of the table. It simply won’t happen.)
In an age when clubs of Norwich’s size simply cannot break into the top six any more, there have been so many memorable moments in the last three years that, for me, what Lambert has achieved places him on a par with any of his predecessors whom you might care to name – Archie Macauley, Ron Saunders, Ken Brown, Mike Walker, anyone. But it is Lambert’s last 12 months here that make you think that his work here is not quite complete. Now were there to be a major managerial merry-go-round over the summer and successors were sought for, say Alex McLeish or David Moyes, then what the City manager has accomplished would make him a contender.
But in some eyes he might still be seen as no better than George Burley, Steve Coppell or Phil Brown – managers who could cut it in one Premier League campaign but not two. Get past “second-season syndrome” and then I think it would be well-nigh impossible for us to hold onto Lambert and his team when someone bigger came calling.
• SEASON’S EXPLOITS DESERVE OPEN TOP BUS PARADE
So 2011/12 finishes as the joint sixth-highest finish in the Canaries’ history.
We last finished 12th in 1994, when we took six additional points from an extra four fixtures.
But this season was far, far more of an achievement. Frankly, it merits another open-top bus parade, because just think of where we were a year ago. There’s the QPR approach to staying up, and then there’s ours. Twelve months ago Adam Drury and Leon Barnett were the only squad members who needed more than two hands to count off their previous appearances in the Premier League. It was only May 2009, let’s not forget, when Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson were facing each other in the League Two play-off final, Steve Morison was turning out for Stevenage in the FA Trophy final against York and John Ruddy’s spell at Crewe had just ended with a 4-3 defeat at Stockport.
You might have expected one of them to maybe play on a top-flight ground thanks to a lucky cup draw, but to actually play a significant role in a Premier League campaign? All four of them?
Frankly it must have then been considered about as unlikely as Mark Lawrenson now penning a tribute in any Grant Holt testimonial programme.
Ruddy’s only top-flight experience was a freak substitute apprearance following a red card for Iain Turner, while Kyle Naughton’s was as a 94th-minute. Then you had Andrew Surman and his grand total of three starts for Wolves – two 3-0 defeats and a 4-0 loss – and James Vaughan with just eight at Everton.
Squads like this should struggle, surely? But not a bit of it. Yesterday’s game shows just what progress has been made – not just in 12 months, but the six since the Canaries were well beaten at Aston Villa.
I had no complaints in losing to a much better side, but boy were the tables overturned on Sunday.
Shay Given apart, Villa were terrible. The visiting supporters dressed as Zippy and George would have been more use on the pitch.
The Canaries were so much in control it was embarrassing.
With a year’s collective Premier League experience under their belts now we can hopefully push on and prove that it wasn’t a fluke and that the seven-year plan is well ahead of schedule. After all we will go into next season in highly optimistic mood, whereas Aston Villa will start on the back of a run of four wins in 27 fixtures.
• DOES HOLT GET TO KEEP THE BARRY BUTLER TROPHY?
So the Canaries banished the memories of some forgettable final-day non-shows in some style.
I appreciate that the Carlisle and Coventry games came at the end of long, successful campaigns, but they remain four hours of my life that I will never get back.
On Sunday, though the Canaries showed far more resolve and intent to get the job done. It was a pleasure and delight to be at Carrow Road.
The £1.6m fixture turned out in the end to be worth ‘only’ £800,000, but the general approach suggested that there was an awful lot more to the proceedings than prize money. City just wanted to end with a flourish.
And that wasn’t all. Grant Holt deservedly was player of the season – does he get to keep the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy now? – and we keep a clean sheet. It doesn’t get a lot better than that.
But the real thing about Sunday? Bright, sunny weather and the mother of all relegation battles and it brought the memories of 2005 flooding back far more than this season’s trip to Craven Cottage.
When you compare the post-match mood on Sunday with how we felt seven years ago it just reinforces what an achievement the Canaries have pulled off this season.
For me the real player who stood out against Aston Villa was Jonny Howson, and what a coup it was to snap him up when we did.
Now if Paul Lambert can follow the example of previous Mays and pull another rabbit out of the signing bag it will send out a real early signal of intent. And also surely end any speculation linking him to alternative employment elsewhere.
• I WISH BOLTON HAD STAYED UP
Just two days into the close season and you already look ahead to the 2012/13 campaign and realise the task that will face them come August 18. If I could have chosen who would have stayed up it would have been Bolton. Deep in debt, they would be there or thereabouts at the foot of the table again next year, no question. It’s bad enough having one nouveau-riche club spending silly money and inflating the prices paid by more conventionally-operated outfits such as the Canaries, so here’s hoping that Blackpool win the Championship play-off this weekend.