Photo Gallery: Norwich City rise to the challenge against West Brom on pivotal day
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's players and management had no right to dredge up a Premier League performance of such distinction.
For survival to have been secured in emphatic fashion was a testament to the rich seams of character that run through the football club.
Pressure does strange things to people. When you are forced to perform, when your backs are pushed against the wall you can go one of two ways. City could have succumbed; meekly waved goodbye to the top flight and exited the stage with a lifetime of memories from blue chip trips to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. Or sought cold comfort in the lingering glow of stellar home wins over Arsenal and Manchester United. Yet they chose to stand and fight. They chose to accept the nerve-shredding tension and perilous nature of their plight. They delivered when it mattered most and with a victory that will live long in the consciousness of all those present – not simply for the quality of their work under such extreme stress, but in their refreshing obduracy. Given the low blow delivered by Aston Villa the previous weekend after months of toil and effort had failed to extricate the club from an enveloping scrap for survival, City's players and management must have been wracked with self-doubt. It is to the eternal credit of Chris Hughton's squad that they did not just crawl over the line, they burst through the tape.
The relief was etched on Hughton's features at the final whistle. Wes Hoolahan was the first person he embraced, before the Norwich manager retreated out of sight to the mouth of the tunnel to greet the rest of his players. It was a mark of the man he should willingly depart the scene to leave the stage free for his players to bask in adulation and congratulations. His predecessor may not have been quite so magnanimous.
Hughton's brief was to ensure Norwich remained a Premier League entity in a second season of consolidation. That is the only criteria on which he should be judged. The concertinaed nature of the current standings now leave City well poised for a top half finish ahead of an enjoyable final day outing to the dethroned champions. Hughton reiterated in a post-match interview laced with a visible release from the unbearable weight he must have borne in recent weeks that Norwich's achievement belonged to his players.
Nevertheless, to dwell on the contributions of individuals would be an insult to the collective approach which has insulated his squad through periods of adversity and shone during their brightest moments. It has bubbled just underneath the surface for all those landmark wins over the elite and during the consistent club-record unbeaten Premier League run before Christmas that formed the backbone of Norwich's meritorious resistance. The drive and the dynamism of Grant Holt and Jonny Howson against the Baggies typified the star quality of the hosts intermingled with the requisite toil that swept aside a West Brom team lacking in both ideas and creative energy.
This win for Norwich may well be portrayed as a bridge too far in certain quarters, for an Albion outfit who themselves have struggled to match the potency of early season efforts.
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The calamitous contributions of Ben Foster and his two centre-backs just after the hour mark that defined Norwich's victory will earn plenty of headlines. Yet that would be to question City's superiority in every department that mattered.
Norwich started on the front foot and remained there. Only one outcome appeared likely from the first minute until Howson's exquisite stoppage time finish, after he exchanged passes with Luciano Becchio. It was a breathtaking strike that encapsulated the vibrancy and the growing confidence of the Canaries as the one-sided contest evolved. Becchio's late entrance for the tireless Holt was a masterstroke of man-management by Hughton. The skipper buried himself for the cause with a display that evoked memories of the terrors he has inflicted on opposition defences during Norwich's remarkable rise. Holt, much like his team mates, have been written off on numerous occasions this season. There is plenty of life left in the corpse. Holt deserved his goal and the plaudits of a grateful home audience as he took his bow in the closing moments. When Norwich's captain is at his best, the endless talk about systems and styles of play is largely irrelevant.
Holt fashioned numerous assists for his team mates, capped by the deep cross for the pivotal first goal. His late layoff for the on-rushing Anthony Pilkington produced a superb one-handed stop from Foster. For all the keeper's woes, Norwich's margin of victory would have been greater. Hughton should remind his troops of such impressive attributes whenever City are tested in the future. Much is made of the perceived deficiencies at the manager's disposal; a theory given weight when the road became devilishly steep at times this season and the challenge immense, but on uplifting days like these you are reminded again why Norwich deserve to be treated as a genuine Premier League entity.
The Canaries will always have to fight for survival amongst the glitterati, but two seasons of consecutive success at such a rarefied level of the club game prove it is possible. Norwich's raucous home hurrah served as a glorious reminder.