Six things we learned from Norwich City’s 2015/16 Premier League season
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was supposed to be different this time following those joyous scenes at Wembley last May, but it never really happened for Norwich City. Michael Bailey picks out six lessons from another Premier League relegation.
1) Toe punts really can be things of footballing beauty
In reality, a season of 38 games boiled down to one historic highlight – victory at Old Trafford. And that day proved as random as the goal that won it.
David de Gea has been one of Manchester United's top performers this season – not bad given he was sat in a Madrid airport in August waiting to join Real. But he was left in a bamboozled heap by Cameron Jerome's opener and then rooted to the spot by Alex Tettey's glorious toe punt.
The way City played that mid-December day was perfect – from the defensive resolve, to swift countering at pace and then most crucially of all, taking their chances.
And all that, at a side that at home had not lost up to that point and conceded just one goal.
Maybe the fact Crystal Palace went from that same day until Norwich's Selhurst Park visit in April without a win helped take heat off the Canaries.
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But the reality was City scored just two more goals away from home all season. Jerome didn't score again and City never returned to such a level of clinical finishing. The one thing City didn't want their landmark win to be was a freak result – but sadly, that's exactly what came to pass.
2) The search for that key scorer since Grant left goes on
The last time Norwich were promoted to the Premier League, they finished with a striker who made such a success of the step up, he was in serious consideration to join England for the Euros.
Then your thoughts start to flow forward to what has happened since – culminating in this season.
Sure, City had the strikers to win promotion last term but one then wanted out, another two never took part and the fourth proved he isn't good enough for the top flight. As for Dieumerci Mbokani, it's frustrating the sparks of promise never brought regular goals.
The number of sitters missed this season is quite frankly embarrassing, starting with Lewis Grabban on opening day and continuing with Jerome at home to Everton and Man City, plus Wes Hoolahan's miss at home to Arsenal. There are others. We all have a favourite.
Grant Holt hit 14 Premier League goals in 2011-12, was top scorer again the next season under Chris Hughton.
No City striker since has held up the ball and carried the same goal threat and example – it is perhaps the saddest indictment of the Canaries' recent recruitment record.
3) The Premier League is too ruthless to give you time to learn
As the hour mark approached at St James' Park, Newcastle led 3-2 but their nerves were jangling. City were knocking on the door and you felt one more nudge could knock it in.
Alex Neil agreed. He went bold, brought on another forward for his holding midfielder and went for victory. From that moment, it all fell apart – and you could argue it for the entire season, as much as that Sunday afternoon.
The 6-2 hammering was never a no-show. It was a flawed tactical change City's players never dealt with on the pitch. And its ramifications ran deep – from substitutions that took too long to arrive, cautious starting line-ups trying to hold station until a game opened up; more often than not, the game only opened up once the opposition had scored.
In autumn, City were receiving plaudits for adapting their approach to make them far harder to beat; Bournemouth continued their own philosophy, kept losing games and had to deal with some tough questions. In the end, only one approach had a future.
All City can hope for now is to reap the benefits of a refreshed, improved and still promising manager both in the Championship next season, and back in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
4) We will always have Newcastle, Timm…
That late victory over Newcastle at Carrow Road is no longer the crucial moment we hoped it would be. But for that day, Premier League life felt grand for Norwich City.
And away from all the late dramas, the sight of Timm Klose rising like a big Swiss salmon to head home the opening goal along with his mopping up of attacks and sound distribution sticks in the memory.
Having swiftly improved game by game, that afternoon it seemed City had recruited the real deal to end their lengthy centre-back dramas.
For all the recriminations and theories on why things went so wrong this season, it's a remarkable thought that had Timm stayed fit for a majority of the six remaining games – maybe only the visit from Sunderland – it all could've been so different.
The sample size was small but Klose looked as accomplished as any centre-back to play for City since the Premier League arrived.
It's hard to imagine a Championship campaign that to involves a player of Timm Klose's stature – but every City supporter will be spending the summer praying one arrives.
5) …and Gabby Agbonlahor will always have Norwich
It has been said more than once – if you can't beat Aston Villa this season, you don't deserve to be in the Premier League. Newcastle were the only side not to pick up at least one victory over the Villains this term.
City can have few arguments either. Their limp 2-0 defeat at Villa Park could well be a dark day that gets recounted for seasons to come. But the crushing part is that at Villa's lowest ebb, it was Gabby Agbonlahor who killed off the game. He broke in behind with pace and slotted home – the thing is, it was Agbonlahor's only goal of a tumultuous season in which he since resigned the captaincy and was sent away from the squad for the final months because he was accused of not being fit enough to be a Premier League player. Forget what I said about the missed sitters earlier – this is the really embarrassing stuff.
There were all too many dark days this season: games at Bournemouth, Swansea and Watford; the ridiculous naivety in giving away two-goal leads. But ultimately, defeat at Aston Villa was the nadir. Their reward? A quick opportunity to put it right. Great.
6) Yellow and green away kits do not enhance performance
Fair play to Norwich – they somehow came up with three kits from a limited choice of colours.
The 'marmite' third strip – the hoops represented community apparently – was actually a grower; a view maybe not be shared by many others. What can't be argued is City's record in their changed strips of yellow and green.
The green shirts and yellow shorts got four outings and peaked with its debut at Upton Park, as City twice led in their 2-2 draw with West Ham. What followed were lacklustre defeats at Watford, Tottenham and Crystal Palace. It may well be the last City kit we see Timm Klose perform in.
The 'little yellow hoops with black trim' number that constituted Norwich's third kit earned a Capital One Cup win at Rotherham, a Lewis Grabban walk-out and a goal from Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Miraculous stuff. It's only league outing was at the Britannia Stadium with a Jonny Howson stunner and 'that' Gary O'Neil sending off; despite all those colours, Gary only saw red.
So clearly the lesson is to copy this season's surprise Premier League champions – but then, I'm sure City fans would take marmite hoops and yellow shorts over blue and white every time.