Norwich City must build a brighter future around Alex Pritchard
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It was supposed to be Brighton's Championship title winning party procession. It turned into the Alex Pritchard show.
If anyone had followed the extent of Brighton’s celebrations after winning promotion on Monday, their lacklustre performance perhaps shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
But such has been the unpredictability of Norwich City this season that it’s impossible to know whether to expect a performance akin to the one against Reading, or endure a display like that against Fulham.
Chris Hughton’s side of course were deserving of all the praise that came their way after earning a place in the Premier League, a division in which Hughton’s last game as manager ended with the indignity of having to dodge those infamous clap banners that were thrown in his direction.
His Brighton side though had managed to do something City have struggled to all campaign: defend. Slightly ironic that on Friday night it was Norwich who managed to keep a clean sheet, and even more so that the player who did the damage was one that did a literal U-turn when on his way to the AMEX Stadium in the summer.
Alex Pritchard’s name may not strictly have been on the score sheet but his two strikes showed exactly why he has to be the key man in a promotion charge next season.
The midfielder had to wait until the middle of October to be handed one of just nine league starts by former manager and Friday night’s TV studio pundit Alex Neil. Before Alan Irvine took charge Pritchard had never started more than two league games in a row. He’s been in the latter’s starting eleven for each of his fixtures so far, and it’s clear to see why.
If the squad clear out is just as brutal as Stuart Webber has predicted, then Pritchard is the man we should be building a team around. His ability to make things happen, to unlock defences and bring others into the game are attributes that the next man to take over must make the most of, after a season where Neil sadly didn’t.
As City prepare to toil for another season in the Championship though it’s Hughton’s Brighton who will be getting ready for a first ever campaign in the Premier League and all the excitement that brings.
As the football world congratulated the former Norwich boss on his achievements on the south coast, it seemed bizarre that a small minority of City fans used it to suggest he shouldn’t have been sacked by the club three years ago.
Hughton’s Championship pedigree was never in doubt having led Newcastle to their storming title win in 2010, but back in 2013/14 he was tasked with keeping City in the Premier League, not winning a place to be in it.
No matter how impressive Brighton have been under his reign and how worthy their promotion, it doesn’t change history. It may sound a little melodramatic but watching the football Norwich played in his second season in charge remains one of the lowest points in my 22 years and counting as a supporter.
Whether Hughton adopts similar tactics (and whether they are successful) next season will neither validate that decision or prove it was wrong. He has earned the right to get another chance in the top flight.
How many members of the current Norwich squad will have the chance to do the same next season at Carrow Road is a different story. Friday was only the 10th clean sheet of the season, and credit where it’s due to the defence they kept a dangerous Brighton attack very quiet indeed.
There’s still little doubt as to what needs to be worked on this summer. The statistics say it all. City are the division’s highest scorers but only two teams have conceded more goals. It will be up to Webber and co. to sort that issue out to ensure that players and fans aren’t playing the part of envious onlookers again this time next year.