Let's hope a bright new era for the Canaries is just around the corner
PUBLISHED: 10:30 09 May 2017
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It may have been a truly forgettable season, but Sunday's SkyBet Championship finale felt as though it was the closing chapter of a rollercoaster era in Norwich City's history.
John Ruddy’s emotional departure was the most significant of the latest cull on the wage bill, and signalled further dismantling of Alex Neil’s Wembley-winning team.
Fellow leavers Stephen Whittaker and Seb Bassong were on that team sheet against Middlesbrough nearly two years ago, with Ryan Bennett named as a substitute. Only seven players in the match day squad on that May afternoon remain contracted to Norwich City.
While one of the most dependable members of the old guard waved goodbye, another in Wes Hoolahan was instead waving silverware after picking up his first player-of-the-season award. It was of course more of a cumulative appreciation over the course of a decade at the club rather than the last campaign alone, where his tally rose to seven goals and 10 assists after Sunday’s win.
Both he and Ruddy produced stellar performances in their respective positions, with the latter making one last impressive stop to push Pawel Wszolek’s shot onto the crossbar as he fittingly ended his Norwich career with a clean sheet.
City’s big stopper may be heading for pastures new, but his teammate of the last seven seasons showed exactly why he will have much more to give under a new regime.
Hoolahan will have turned 35 by the time he returns for pre-season training, but produced the sort of trademark left-footed finish we’ve become used to witnessing. His initial lay-off to Alex Pritchard in the area then paved the way for the second.
There may be 10 years between them but the sight of these two in full flow shows why Norwich fans should be excited about what could lie ahead in the 2017-18 season. Hoolahan’s perfectly weighted ball over the top for Josh Murphy’s goal further typified the creative impact the Irishman can still have at this level.
City’s four-goal flourish ensured they finished joint top scorers with title winners Newcastle. Indeed, Norwich scored nine more goals than any other team in the division at home, while Sunday was the ninth occasion in which they scored three or more at Carrow Road.
Impressive attacking statistics they maye be although they are unable to mask the defensive horror shows that have underpinned an ultimately miserable campaign.
September’s agonising 4-3 defeat at St James’ Park unknowingly set the stall out for this season’s malaise. A game Norwich were winning going into injury-time and had somehow lost by the full-time whistle, a performance which exemplified that stubborn soft underbelly, exposed most often away from home, that ultimately cost Norwich a play-off place at the very minimum.
Calamitous displays like the one in the north-east ensured City won just 30 percent of their final points tally on the road, a long way off the required benchmark set by the teams who won automatic promotion. Brighton won 42 percent of points away while it was as high as 49 percent for champions Newcastle.
Sunday’s dominant performance, albeit against a QPR side who played as though their minds were already on their summer holidays, served as another reminder of a wasted nine months that could have proved so successful had it not been for the defensive flaws that have plagued far too many displays.
Looking ahead, City have an attacking force that has the potential to be the envy of the division come August. If the new recruitment team can assemble a defence anywhere near as strong as the forward line there’s a good chance supporters will be celebrating much more than a win in an end of season dead rubber in 12 months’ time.
Until then, at least we have seen enough positive signs in recent weeks to feel encouraged and enjoy a summer which is bound to be busy inside the corridors of Colney. Over to you, Stuart Webber.