Report card: Polite Norwich quietly succumb to relegation
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History might tell us that Norwich wasted a huge opportunity in 2013/14. They’d finished the previous campaign in 11th and, with the bonus of an enviable financial base, looked perfectly positioned to make a tilt at establishing themselves around the top flight’s middle order.
If there was any unease about Chris Hughton’s £25 million summer spree, it wasn’t voiced too loudly. Nathan Redmond may have been the only rising star to join from the Football League, a market to which Norwich’s ascent had owed much, but the likes of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer, Martin Olsson and Gary Hooper looked like reasons to think they could make the next level – adding pace and punch to a side that had struggled for goals.
All looked well enough when Van Wolfswinkel levelled things in a lively draw with Everton on the opening day, but the Dutchman would become a lightning rod for everything that subsequently went wrong, failing to score in his next 26 appearances in all competitions.
Despite the attacking intent of their transfer activity, Norwich settled into a frustrating passivity – seemingly caught in Hughton’s safety-first mindset, which had been fine enough when less was expected. Wins were conjured up just in time to stave off too many questions, but discontent swelled after Christmas as several false dawns showed little sign of turning into bright tomorrows. Norwich had rarely troubled the bottom three outright but, with the spectre of a fiendish final four matches against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal looming in the background, points were needed fast. And, with the Carrow Road faithful’s patience finally evaporating after a dreary April defeat to West Brom, Hughton was replaced by under-18 coach Neil Adams. The horse, though, had long since bolted.
In mitigation, Norwich didn’t come up with the number of stinkers you’d expect from a relegated side, making Hughton’s inability to shift them up an extra gear all the more perplexing. Injuries to key players such as Fer and lynchpin Alex Tettey didn’t help, either. Norwich believed they were adding performers who could springboard them to bigger things, but ultimately there were few individuals on or off the pitch who justified that faith.
Would they have taken this in August?
Absolutely not. Mid-table consolidation was seen as par; Norwich's transfer dealings had them dreaming big.
Would they have taken this in January?
Again, no. A few alarm bells had started to ring, but the Canaries still occupied 12th place as the window closed.
Norwich and Sunderland can both look back on their meeting of March 22 with incredulity. Then, Tettey thumped in an implausible 30-yard volley, undoubtedly one of the Premier League season’s best goals, to put the hosts 2-0 up as they threatened to run riot against their insipid, directionless relegation rivals. It sent Carrow Road into raptures and put Norwich on 32 points, seven clear of the Black Cats. Disaster had surely been averted.
There’s little shame in shipping a few goals at the Etihad these days, but a 7-0 hiding there in November – dished out after a poor start to the campaign – served warning of traumas to come. When games got away from Norwich, they tended to do so quickly, and the manner of this embarrassing defeat to City hinted at an alarming lack of backbone.
Hero of the season
Robert Snodgrass was one of few Norwich players to emerge from the season with an enhanced reputation, and can probably claim to be one of the top flight’s most improved performers. He was behind many of the Canaries’ better days – scoring a superb free-kick in the win over West Ham and the only goal in perhaps their most impressive victory, against Spurs – and was a relentless, scheming presence throughout their darkest moments.
Villain of the season
Chief executive David McNally had deservedly built up a reputation as one of football’s more level-headed administrators, but he severely blotted his copybook in 2013/14. If saying in January that he would “prefer death rather than relegation” seemed a bit much, his decision to replace Hughton with a callow Adams just five games from the end of the season was an exercise in bad timing that probably proved fatal to his club’s chances of survival.
The season in a microcosm
The pass that sprouted a thousand Vines. With Norwich a goal down in their make-or-break visit to Fulham, things looked perkier when Van Wolfswinkel scampered clear on the right hand side of the box. With team-mates screaming for a tap-in, the Dutchman opted against drilling in a cross and laid the ball back – straight to the feet of an unattended, and rather surprised, Kieran Richardson. His colleagues’ reactions said enough, as did the eagerness with which the social media hordes pounced.
E. As one of the league’s relative minnows, Norwich’s demise should be put in perspective – but still, it really shouldn’t have come to this.