Six things we learned from the Canaries’ latest dose of Premier League misery
PUBLISHED: 14:03 09 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:03 09 May 2016
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A familiar tale for Alex Neil’s men all but condemned Norwich City to another Premier League relegation against Manchester United at Carrow Road. Michael Bailey offers up some key points worthy of further discussion…
1 – City’s fate is all but sealed – and the recriminations can begin
So finally, City’s chickens came home to roost. It’s not confirmed yet, of course. But it’s now surely just a matter of administration, logistics and time.
And when it comes, it won’t have been down to City’s last two results or performances – although the complete lack of fight following United’s winning goal on Saturday will not be forgotten any time soon.
What Saturday’s game did do in following the well-established pattern most of the season, was underline the point Norwich haven’t been good enough – especially in both penalty boxes, which in reality are the only places it matters.
Quite why chief executive David McNally decided Saturday night was the time to start engaging with City fans on Twitter – never mind suggesting he had resigned, only to withdraw it – is a point McNally himself probably spent the rest of the weekend trying to get his head around. His subsequent departure confirmed on Monday was probably the only possible outcome from there.
And this is where we all are now – the fall-out. The lack of financial muscle to compete at this level. The poor recruitment. The mistakes on the pitch and in the dug-out.
City spent most of this season morphing into the Norwich of 2013-14 – sadly, that has come to its logical, predictable conclusion.
2 – Jonny Howson deserved far more than his injury
There were two occasions Jonny Howson gave the ball away on Saturday – and that’s noteworthy because it doesn’t usually happen once.
The man has been a model of consistency this season and all too often, it’s been the quality and consistency of those around him that has been the issue – that and the position Jonny found himself playing.
Howson picked up April’s player of the season award before Saturday’s game. It’s worth adding here, he has already received my player of the season vote too. Others have done well – but not to his level.
So the one thing Howson did not deserve on Saturday was a block tackle with Michael Carrick to end his season with a knee injury.
It was hard not to watch Saturday’s game – or indeed several before – without thinking about what Premier League scouts would make of what they were watching unfold.
Jonny Howson signed a new four-year deal with City in August. He is happy here and more grounded than some.
Yet for me there is no doubt that when the vultures come calling this summer, Jonny will be very near to the top of the wanted list.
3 – Bassong needs a break – and Olsson owes him a drink
Sebastien Bassong can certainly be laid back, but chatting with him gives you a good sense of the lucid character he is. In that knowledge, it’s hard to see him make so many mistakes in recent games – in a side clearly devoid of confidence in their defensive or attacking qualities.
The most recent two home games have felt like points of no return for Bassong, perhaps based solely on the supporters’ reactions to those moments when City are relying on the centre-back to distribute or sweep up – best case scenario, that feeling is put off until if or when Norwich make their next Premier League return.
But just to be clear, Saturday’s only goal owed just as much to Martin Olsson casually watching the calamity unfold in front of him – before realising he should probably be the one tracking Juan Mata.
In replays, you can see exactly when he realises – and of course, it’s far too late.
Olsson has actually been good since returning to his left-back berth, having thankfully waited out Robbie Brady’s overly-prolonged occupancy.
But perhaps there should be no surprises in Bassong and Olsson making mistakes to cost Norwich City Premier League points. Again, we were here two years ago and City haven’t moved on.
4 – Wayne Rooney should be no where near a starting striker berth this summer
The debate over England’s starting XI for Euro 2016 arrived at Carrow Road on Saturday – and probably should have been put to bed by the time Craig Pawson blew his final whistle of the day.
Initially it felt weird to see Wayne Rooney lining up as a midfielder – and a holding midfielder at that, alongside Michael Carrick. But come Anthony Martial’s injury (more on that in a moment), Rooney was swiftly promoted to spearhead Manchester United’s attack – and to be quite frank, he was awful.
There was one exquisite pass to put through Morgan Schneiderlin in the second half, and of course his part in the goal.
But other than that the England captain looked laboured, unable to impose himself on the game and at times, lacking even the necessary quality to help out those behind him.
With the seasons enjoyed by the likes of Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, there should be little to suggest that in this form, Rooney should be starting for England come the summer – even though it is right he should travel. But then, this is Roy Hodgson…
5 – The football gods could not have helped City more
The suggestion was if Norwich City repeated their performance at Arsenal in the remaining three games, then they would have enough to avoid relegation.
Well, they did – and it garnered the same result and frustrations at Carrow Road against Manchester United as were forthcoming at the Emirates Stadium seven days earlier.
Those two games are usually as tough as they come for a Premier League side – but in the end, the performances from both United and the Gunners were as bad as any I’d seen the two clubs muster against Norwich.
What’s more, before 20 minutes had passed on Saturday Norwich were facing a United side that had lost Anthony Martial in the warm-up, when Louis van Gaal had decided to rest Marcus Rashford from the entire matchday squad, and then lost an Italian international full-back to a nasty ankle injury.
There was little more the football gods could have done to boost the Canaries’ cause during that first half – short of giving Cameron Jerome the ability to stick away a free header from 12 yards. Talk about missing your opportunities.
6 – Twelve months is a very long time in football
This season has been like death by a thousand cuts – and perhaps number 999 was what happened away from Carrow Road on Saturday and back whence City came.
Busy pipping Brighton to automatic promotion from the Championship, Middlesbrough laid their Wembley ghost to rest in their latest promotion play-off. Well, it was unlikely they would arrive late for a game at their own ground.
With the helping hand of a truly terrible decision to send off Dale Stephens, the celebrations at the Riverside Stadium were no doubt as good as they come for the Boro faithful. And yet, they will have only emphasised to Norwich City just how transient English football can be.
The question of whether the Canaries were promoted too soon under Alex Neil is illogical at best, given the state of City’s squad and rebuilding that a second Championship season would have likely brought – regardless of whether you think Alex Neil needed the additional experience in football management.
As for Boro, they will now take on the task that is just about to defeat Norwich – but not the better-financed Bournemouth and Watford.
City fans will watch with interest – and probably with gritted teeth.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey