It never rains but it pours for Norwich City's supporters on the road
PUBLISHED: 20:00 03 April 2017
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There were a few moments in the second half at Villa Park on Saturday during which it felt like even Mother Nature was satirising Norwich City's season.
A double rainbow arched above the ground while bright sunshine and heavy rain simultaneously did their best to take control of the skies. There was something very Championship about it. The weather somehow matched the chaotic, disorganised, all or nothing nature of the division in which the Canaries now look certain to spend at least another season.
The irony of Norwich City supporters being treated to such a meteorological marvel was inescapable. There were some nice things to look at, a bright spell that suggested Spring was finally here and brought with it the promise of better times ahead but ultimately there was no escaping the fact that City fans were getting rained on once again away from home.
Having been at every single one of Norwich City’s away matches this season it could be that I have lowered my expectations accordingly but between the two penalty areas there wasn’t a lot wrong with what the team did and how much effort and desire they put in against Aston Villa. It was certainly nowhere near as appalling as that surrender at Sheffield Wednesday or the battering at Brighton but any crumbs of comfort that could be taken from the performance were hoovered up by the crushing realisation that we have talked all season about a squad full of promise and potential that would be okay if it could just stop undermining its position with some inexplicably hopeless defensive lapses.
That the worries, concerns and issues are still the same 39 games into the campaign as they were in August, and after a change of manager, underlines how much needs to be put right when this sorry season is finally behind us.
The two week international break had afforded an opportunity to dream that all was not lost for Norwich City this season. Had they stumbled upon a lucky manager in Alan Irvine? The bizarre own goal that clinched a 2-0 win over Barnsley at Carrow Road a fortnight earlier, coupled with news of other teams dropping points and the return to fitness of some long lost first team regulars suggested that the Canary caretaker might just have the sort of magic touch that could bridge the five-point gap between us and the top six.
That theory was quickly extinguished on Saturday when returning midfielder Graham Dorrans limped off just 45 minutes into his first start since Boxing Day with a new setback and Ivo Pinto followed Mitchell Dijks onto the naughty step as Irvine saw one of his full backs sent off for the second time in his three matches in charge.
The last remaining sliver of optimism only comes from supporters with a long enough memory to recall the end of the 2001-02 season. Nigel Worthington’s team were in a similarly hopeless position at the same stage of that campaign, in fact they were even further off the pace than the current Canaries were with eight games to go, but managed to hit form just in time to steal the final play-off position on the very last day of the season.
It’s frightening to think that 15 long years have passed since that memorable two-legged semi-final victory over Wolves and the mass exodus to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to see Norwich City take part in a play-off final for the first time ever. They would of course go on to lose on penalties to Birmingham City. A heart breaking defeat administered by a team from England’s second city managed by Steve Bruce. It seems this year’s promotion push has been finally written off in similar circumstances. At least Bruce didn’t put us through the pain of the play-offs this time but when does that goodwill for his goal against Ipswich in 1985 officially run out?
The best and worst of modern football
The post-match media circus at Villa Park was a rollercoaster that veered from the very worst to the very best of what a football ground is like after a match.
It was quite a task to make my appointment with Alan Irvine by the touchline for our traditional interview after the game.
The Aston Villa stewards showed exactly the sort of ‘thou shall not pass’ attitude that Norwich City’s defence could learn a thing or two from as they dismissed the collection of three media passes that I had as not being adequate enough proof that I should be allowed anywhere near the players’ tunnel.
Fair enough, I suppose, they were only doing their jobs in the same way that tax collectors and traffic wardens have to.
I was less understanding when, having eventually found my permitted route to the side of the pitch, their high-viz jacketed colleagues were less inclined to step in when poor old Alan Irvine started getting some abuse shouted at him from the hospitality boxes during those interviews.
He has broad enough shoulders to take what any former West Brom manager might get at Villa Park but it meant we couldn’t use some of his interview on air and the spectacle was made all the more depressing by the presence of a young child between the two chief barrackers who seemed to have seen more of the bottom their wine glasses than the match.
That sort of behaviour is now much more acceptable in the posh seats than in the stands at many grounds. The stewards did eventually appeal to their better nature but only after the horse had bolted and the interviews been recorded.
However, just as I was about give up on modern football and all who sail in her, Steve Bruce stepped in to restore my faith. The Aston Villa manager was so shocked to learn of the recent death of Norwich City employee Peter Oldfield that he asked to record a special tribute to a man he remembered from his own time at Carrow Road some 30 years ago. It was a touching moment.