Michael Bailey: 6 things learned from Norwich City and the Championship title
Champions! That's what we really learned from Villa Park - but Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey had a go at finding six more lessons from the Canaries' Aston Villa victory.
1 – Crunch time? Completed it mate
Remember when those draws were creeping in. When it felt to some like Norwich City were stuttering a bit. I certainly remember when people were telling me – despite what history was telling us all – that about 98 points would book the top two because everyone was relentlessly winning!
Well when the going got really tough, City kept the points tally ticking over and with it, finished the season 14 games unbeaten with just six defeats all season and only two away from home.
No side beat Norwich twice, City equalled their best second-tier points tally and scored a record 93 goals.
As far as tests of character go, this side did what any group of champions needs too – when it is arguably toughest to do it. And then they did it again at Villa Park.
2 – Mario isn't just a very pretty face
I spent a lot of interviews earlier in the season asking Mario Vrancic just how much he was hoping to get a few more Norwich City minutes on the pitch.
His first appearance on the bench was not until the visit of Middlesbrough. His first start was in early November at Hillsborough – and his second took another month to arrive. By that point, Vrancic already had two goals and two assists.
In the end, City's 29-year-old Bosnian started 14 of 46 league games, came off the bench for another 22 – yet clocked 10 goals and nine assists. Fourteen players played more minutes than Mario's 1,484; seven of those team-mates played more than double.
Things were on the up for Mario from last season. This term, he's been the height of Canaries' efficiency.
3 – The good will of the people
The most compelling thing about the first season under Daniel Farke was the bank of good will from most fans, desperately hoping it would come good for a hugely likeable German head coach.
That always stuck with me, given how remarkable things have been since. Just think, 9,000 Farke masks at Arsenal. Maybe we'll get a Premier League repeat next season?
Something struck the same chord as I watched the celebrations on the Villa Park pitch – and Teemu Pukki got the loudest of the cheers as he lifted the famous Football League Championship trophy.
Not only a prolific, record goalscorer. Not only a humble, likeable guy. Not only an underdog; a poster boy for this Canaries model – still getting questioned about his time in Celtic. But a true Norwich City hero, willed on by all in yellow.
4 – Krul words will ring in the ears
There was a graphic following Norwich's promotion against Blackburn – of that particular XI and their Premier League career appearances: A long list of zeros, topped by 150-plus from Tim Krul.
The City stopper will be crucial to this side in the top flight – and while the champagne was still soaking through the yellow shirts, he was already emphasising the things City will need to be aware of the other side of the summer.
Norwich's attacking prowess this season has ensured they have always got away with their looser moments at the other end. We all know the Premier League works in the same way, but at a considerably higher level.
Krul gets it – and his leadership will be as priceless then as it was this season.
5 – Only Villa can stop the Villa
It felt like a bit of a punt in February as I continued to label Aston Villa as good as any side Norwich had faced this season – given Sheffield United and Leeds were continuing their relentless form.
However, now it's all done it rings entirely true. There is no question Villa's rather erratic spells and lack of consistency emphasise how well the Canaries have done on that score.
But while Norwich did the double over Villa for the first time since 1992-93 – also the last season City won at Villa Park – the Villans still, for me, were as good as anyone else in the division; especially as they afforded the rest of a few players on Sunday, and John McGinn missed both City clashes.
That should translate into successful play-offs for Dean Smith's side – but only if they can ride the waves.
6 – This will never be forgotten
We all have our stories to tell about this season. Specific moments, exchanges, opinions and images. Over the coming week or two, I'll share mine. I'm sure you will all share yours all summer.
Part of the coverage of this remarkable campaign has been republishing the pictures from 2015, 2011, 2010, 2004, 1986 and more. Every one a campaign stamped in City folklore – each a special chapter in 117 years of Norwich City.
That can be glossed over all too easily – but when we all sit back and give it some thought, I think we all know what it means: future reunions, special memories, lifelong heroes.
These have been the most special of days. They won't carry on like this forever – but neither would we have it any other way. It only makes this all the sweeter. Enjoy.
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