Michael Bailey: Once again Wembley deals only in winners for the City connections
It was agony and ecstasy for a host of Norwich City connections at Wembley on Sunday, as Rotherham United beat Shrewsbury Town 2-1 in the League One play-off final. MICHAEL BAILEY assesses all the drama.
There was always a major flaw with having Norwich City connections on both sides of the League One play-off final divide – someone was going to lose out at Wembley.
And in the words of Canaries loanee Carlton Morris, the pain of losing at the home of English football hits you deep in your soul.
So it’s best starting with the winners – as Rotherham United took all 120 minutes to shake off a Shrewsbury Town side that finished one place and eight points higher than them in the table, yet never truly convinced ahead of their red and white rivals.
Led by a Norwich son in Paul Warne, a manager who never wanted to manage, he has never looked more comfortable – and the sun has never shone with more warmth on that Pep Guardiola-esque look. Indeed, the Millers fans enjoy chanting that they’ve “only got Paul Warne” alongside his new nickname: ‘Warne-iola’.
The former Diss and Wroxham forward will get plenty of time to look forward to taking on the club he supports, as well as the other monumental Championship challenges that Rotherham failed to deal with two years ago.
Only this time, Warne won’t be dealing with that alongside a shudder of disbelief that he ended up doing a job he didn’t want.
That said, the gap between League One an the Championship may be bigger than some give it credit for – Rotherham alongside Blackburn and Wigan made it all three relegated sides 12 months ago earning an immediate return.
On the other side of the fence is Shrewsbury Town. A club who were supposed to be relegated, given the pre-season odds – and instead felt huge disappointment at missing out on promotion, automatic or on Sunday.
The City loanees Morris and Ben Godfrey have been firm favourites with the Shrews support. Godfrey’s covering runs, bursts forward and tenacious tackling shine like a player all ready to make the stop up a level from the third tier.
Morris’ own work rate and effort was just starting to reap rewards – until a knee injury prematurely ended his afternoon, just as things looked like bearing fruit. He deserves more than a lengthy lay-off that at would disturb his pre-season back at Norwich, at the very least.
“Sometimes you wonder can they deal with big occasions when they’re younger lads, but that’s really promising for them and their future careers because they’ve got a great chance,” said Shrews boss Paul Hurst of his loanees.
“They’ve been outstanding. They are absolutely gutted, as the rest of them are and again, people sometimes question loan players. I think the ones we’ve had have bought into what we want.
“Ben is absolutely crying his eyes out in there, but they can be extremely proud and it’s a credit to them and a mark of what type of people they are, that when I went to tell them what I thought of them, that they wanted to thank me for the opportunity.
“Certainly I think it worked for both parties, we’ll be wishing them well and watching closely how their careers develop.”
The future for Shrewsbury may be trickier from here. The questions about Ipswich’s managerial vacancy quickly surfaced, alongside Hurst admitting his Town group will most likely be “disbanded” this summer through returning loan players, offers for others and some expiring contracts.
“It’s like going on one long holiday,” philosophised Hurst. “You meet people and get on really well with them, and then it’s time to go home and unfortunately that’s kind of where were at now.”
On the Ipswich speculation – something that may well dent Hurst’s usefulness to City’s loans manager Neil Adams – he added: “That has been happening for quite a bit of the season. I can’t stop what people write and say.
“At this moment, all I’m concerned about is trying to lift those players. I’ve got a couple of things to take care of with forward, with players out of contract. My mind is very much on that. If anything changes, we’ll see what happens. But I don’t see anything at this moment in time.”
Foootball is a small world. There connections were all there at Wembley and everyone will remember the part they played.
But one thing is certain. The stories won’t end here.
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