Norwich City display shows one thing... Greavsie was right all along
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
So let me get this straight. Norwich City will be in the Premier League next season but Sir Alex Ferguson won't?
If only we'd known that a week ago. When the football philosopher that is Jimmy Greaves said 'It's a funny old game, Saint' this is the sort of week he had in mind.
How could a Norwich City side with just two Premier League wins since Christmas turn up on the biggest afternoon of their season and produce a performance oozing with such confidence? At times during the second half against West Brom on Sunday Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan were as dominant as they used to be when terrorising League One defences together.
The easy answer would be to pour a big old bucket of scorn on that fine 4-0 triumph and assume that WestBrom were 'on the beach' to use a phrase that should have died out when mid-table Fulham blasted six past Norwich on that fateful final day in 2005 when they apparently had nothing to play for.
The truth is the there is not actually that much difference in terms of quality between Norwich and The Baggies. The perception is that Steve Clarke has done a tremendous job in his first season in charge at The Hawthorns (which he has) while the Canaries have limped to safety with a stuttering second half of the season (which is also true). And yet which side do you think has lost more Premier League games this season? Norwich have lost 14, West Brom have been beaten 17 times. I'm trying to resist quoting Greavsie again.
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Both sides have blown hot and cold all through the season. Thankfully on Sunday we were treated to the perfect storm as the Canaries' ridge of high pressure met the cold front that was West Brom and for the first time at Carrow Road this season it rained goals at the right end.
No mathematician could now come up with a sum that would see Norwich City relegated to the Championship this season but Chris Hughton's next conundrum is obvious. Norwich haven't had the luxury of a trip to the metaphorical mid-table beach until now for the same reason that Leonardo Da Vinci's mum used to tell him off when he should have been doing his homework; too much drawing.
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If just a couple of City's 14 drawn games could have been converted into victories we would be looking at a team comfortably nestled in the top 10. If next season brings a slightly bolder approach in games that look there for the taking and the capture of Ricky VanWolfswinkel is a sign of a squad that will have more cutting edge and a new found ruthlessness in the final third then next season it could be Norwich fans taking inflatables and fancy dress to away games well before the campaign is over.
City have to start well though. This run of three wins in 20 will be enough ammunition to take into August for anyone unconvinced of the direction that the club's heading in but that is for another day. The bigger picture is that Norwich are 12th and safe with a game to spare.
Which of us would not have taken that during the turbulent summer of 2012 as Paul Lambert waved goodbye and Grant Holt handed in a transfer request?
The day the fixtures came out last June the overwhelming comment from fans was 'we must make sure we don't need to get anything at Man City on the last day' and, as it turns out, we don't. It's been a tough watch at times, nerve shredding at others and on the odd occasion (Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and West Brom at home most notably) genuinely thrilling but in the end Chris Hughton has done the job we all wanted him to do.
Sitting on the table next to me as I write this I have the most unusual piece of sporting memorabilia I have ever acquired. The cork from the bottle of Man of the Match champagne sprayed by Ryan Bennett after Sunday's game. It landed right where we gather to record our post-match interviews. It was Bennett's third award in as many home games after imperious displays against Reading and Aston Villa. Not bad for a bloke who has only started nine Premier League games all season, something of an unlikely hero during the run in. I think I know what Jimmy Greaves would say about that.
• WIGAN SUCCESS MAY BE FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN FOR FA CUP
The weekend just gone may have been a sad one for English football. We might have finally seen the death of the FA Cup.
Don't get me wrong, my spirits were lifted by Wigan's Wembley triumph over the mighty Manchester City, it was just the sort of upset to make any football romantic dewy-eyed but with Wigan also on the verge of relegation it may have been the worst possible outcome for the competition's future.
Failure to win at Arsenal tonight would see Wigan definitely down, a fact that will not be lost on Premier League managers on third round day next year. When deciding how strong a team to pick in January 2014 the ghost of Wigan will loom large, adding weight to the theory that a cup run harms your chances of staying in the richest league in the world.
Norwich City have proved over the past two seasons that going out of the cup doesn't appear to do much for your league form either. Defeats to Leicester and Luton have been part of a spring nose-dive for Norwich in 2012 and 2013 but Wigan's high profile success followed by costly failure could have serious ramifications for the competition. When did the cup start to mean less to clubs? The growing financial disparity between the Premier League and the rest is a big reason but perhaps the gradual decline of the famous old competition set-in properly in 2000 when Manchester United chose not to take part in it at all.
United's involvement in the World Club Championship that winter saw the club take the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the FA Cup for that season. Not Sir Alex Ferguson's proudest moment as a manager, one that he would later admit was a 'catastrophe', but it was interesting that it seemed to have been airbrushed from history when his otherwise deservedly glowing Manchester United Eulogies were being written last week.
Playing the FA Cup final before the end of the Premier League season, switching kick off to 5.15pm haven't helped the ailing competition and now Wigan, as thrilling and well deserved as their terrific win was on Saturday, might just have struck the fatal blow.