Paddy Davitt: The baton passes at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The future dominates Norwich City's story from here. But few surely begrudged a nostalgic farewell to John Ruddy and a first-ever Canaries' player-of-the-year award for Wes Hoolahan.
The Republic of Ireland international cast his spell in a 4-0 Championship romp over QPR that brought a tumultuous season to a climax.
Alex Neil's exit and Stuart Webber's arrival have coalesced to underline the club is on the cusp of a new era. Hoolahan still has a role to play but the outpouring of affection towards Ruddy and his young family at Carrow Road was genuinely touching.
Football in the modern era is increasingly framed by a growing detachment between players and those who follow on the terrace. In that context the longevity of Ruddy and Hoolahan is rare indeed. Now the big man has departed, along with six of his team mates who have not left the same indelible impression or stirred the same emotions.
Ruddy was a formidable barrier in the Paul Lambert squad that topped a League One title triumph with a thrilling Championship promotion success. Yet almost within minutes of the final whistle at Portsmouth on that balmy May night in 2011 questions were posed over how many could cut it at the highest level, against the very best. Ruddy, unquestionably, did. A sustained spell in the England set-up underlined his growing reputation. Norwich slipped back again but held their nerve at Wembley under Alex Neil with Ruddy and Hoolahan pillars in the fightback. Now the big man has departed, along with six of his team mates who have not left the same indelible impression or stirred the same emotions.
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Webber clearly is not one for sentiment, but QPR's visit was an afternoon to remember past glories. Ruddy led out the side flanked by his two children before a slow, almost deliberate walk to the River End. The 30-year-old appeared to be savouring every moment as his name was raucously greeted prior to kick-off. Alan Irvine revealed in the build up he was desperate to play and desperate to go out on a high. He achieved both, with a superb save to foil Pawel Wszolek earning a clean sheet; that priceless commodity for any keeper.
Yet the sight of James Maddison and Ben Godfrey introduced for the final throes and Josh Murphy on target was visible sign of what lies ahead. Ruddy is the past and his sizeable impact and enduring contribution deserves to be recognised but the baton has passed. You can see that increasingly in the manner Alex Pritchard is emerging from Hoolahan's shadow.
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City's newly-crowned player-of-the-year scored twice and earned two assists in a virtuoso display. But Pritchard has emerged as the creative fulcrum under Irvine. The former Tottenham youngster may even have inadvertently got a touch to Hoolahan's opening goal, as he ran across the line of sight. But this was Hoolahan's day. And Ruddy's. It was another glimpse into the future and a final glance into the past for the Norwich number one. Time moves on but the memories and the legacy will endure.