by James Cossey
Paul Lambert’s unbelievable reign as Norwich City manager ended after he secured Premier League football at Carrow Road for at least another season. After guiding the Canaries to successive promotions from League One and then the Championship, Lambert proved that with his limited budget side, with very little Premier League experience, his squad could more than simply cope with life in the best league in the world. Norwich finished a more than respectable 12th on 47 points – level with fellow promoted side Swansea and remarkably, just five points behind Premier League giants Liverpool.
The season was filled with highs, and the Yellows set the Premier League alight with their never say die attitude. Their continuous attacking football showed they could take the game to the opposition sustained by incredible support. They received deserved plaudits throughout the year despite being odds on favourites for the drop before a ball had been kicked.
However, things took a turn for the worst at Carrow Road when star striker Grant Holt shocked fans by handing in a transfer request. The situation worsened when Paul Lambert handed in his resignation – both were subsequently rejected by the club.
On the final day of the season at home to Aston Villa, the away fans were calling for Lambert to replace Alex McLeish. There were numerous questions from the media addressing Lambert’s future and the Canaries boss reaffirmed his desire to stay in charge. Just days later, he handed in his notice which left the Norwich faithful with a sense of bitterness and anger towards the man who had been the saviour and hero of the club.
Supporters would rather have had the truth from the beginning, as Lambert’s success at Norwich would have eventually led him to another challenge. With the resources limited at Carrow Road, Aston Villa was an attractive proposition for a rebuilding process with plenty of money available; his decision has to be accepted.
Both Lambert and Holt have places on the hall of fame and Norwich fans must not forget what both individuals have done for the team, however, the way everything has happened has broken the hearts of many.
Nobody will ever be bigger than the club and with the amount of passion and spirit at Carrow Road; another man will replace the hero status Lambert had and lead Norwich to a bright future.
What were your pre-season expectations and have they been met?
The pre season prediction from the fans was optimistic but personally, I was realistic. With the limited experience, no outstanding names and a squad built on a budget, survival was the only goal for the Canaries. After witnessing the highs of Blackpool’s Premier League campaign coming to a close on the final game of the season away to Manchester United confirming their relegation, the key to survival was consistency. The Canaries were consistent throughout the season with April being the only month of disappointment losing three on the trot against Manchester City, Blackburn and Liverpool. However, this was at a time when survival was all but secured and the spirit resurged in May earning a draw at the Emirates and easing past Aston Villa at home in the final game of the season.
If you’d have been on the touchline what would you have done differently to your manager this term?
Usually, at any stadium, despite any success, you always get the moaning fan that finds something to complain about. This season was very different. The fact that Lambert had taken Norwich from the lows to the extreme highs, nobody was able to question his decisions because of the results he achieved.
There were a couple of occasions when some sections of the crowd were not happy with Aaron Wilbraham being brought on however he silenced those doubters with his effort and commitment.
Player of the season
The player of the season without a doubt was Grant Holt. He joined for a reported £400,000 from League Two side Shrewsbury Town in 2009. At the time, the media published he was past his best and this was a huge gamble. In that season he was given the captaincy by Paul Lambert, went on to score 24 league goals and guided Norwich to the top of League One. In the Championship, he was all but written off again, yet he silenced the critics, scored 21 league goals and helped Norwich finish runners up. In the premiership, Holt’s expectation was limitless. He helped Norwich ease to Premiership safety along with being the second highest English striker with 15 Premiership goals. He was tipped for a surprise, but deserved, call up to the England squad; however, he was harshly pushed out by Liverpool striker Andy Carroll. Pundits found it hard to backup their arguments as to why Holt should not be called up and perhaps, if the Norwich number 9 played for a more ‘glamorous’ team, he would have been included in Roy Hodgson’s squad. This may have played a part in his transfer request but at his age, it is hard to think of a club who would take a chance on the striker for the high asking price.
Another player who has taken the Premier League by storm is John Ruddy. The former Everton keeper took a while to settle at Carrow Road after replacing the fans’ favourite Fraser Forster. Ruddy then proved vital for the Canaries promotion from The Championship and has been extremely reliable between the sticks for Norwich making some incredible, important world class saves. He was subsequently called up to the England squad as back up to Joe Hart. He unfortunately broke a finger whilst training for England, meaning he was unable to be part of the England set-up for Euro 2012.
January was an important month for the Canaries and Lambert’s genius showed again after signing Jonny Howson. The Leeds captain joined with no Premier League experience though his potential was shown at the Yorkshire club as he was given the captain’s armband from an early age. The midfielder was unable to make his first team appearance until March due to injury, though he was brought in for a tough encounter against Stoke. This was a difficult game for the youngster to make his debut as he still needed to gain match fitness. Since then, he has taken large strides in the Yellow shirt and there is no doubt of his talent. Next season will be the time for him to shine.
With the unbelievable season Norwich has had, the word ‘flop’ is possibly harsh to use for any member of the squad. The team spirit, togetherness and performances have been phenomenal and nobody has let the squad down with achievements on, nor behaviour off, the pitch.
A more fitting word is ‘unfortunate’ and the individual who fits the description is James Vaughan. The young exciting player was a £2.5 million signing from Everton and he picked up an early season knee injury which practically ruled him out for the entire season. For the time when he was available for selection, he showed promise and he will be back with a lot to offer next season.
Steve Morison is yet to warm the hearts of some sections of Carrow Road. The striker signed from Millwall for a sizeable fee and has returned with some important goals, the most famous coming away at the Emirates scoring the Canaries third in a breathtaking 3-3 draw. However, the big man’s work-rate has come into question on occasions and when playing alongside work horse Grant Holt, Morison’s ‘laziness’ is highlighted. He has been in and out of the team but next season could be his opportunity to prove any doubters wrong.
Is there a player loved by your fans who other supporters may not rate particularly highly?
Admittedly, Norwich is not a glamorous club filled with big names constantly in the headlines. We do not really have a villain for other teams to abuse nor do we have a character who fans love to hate. The biggest name at our club is Grant Holt and he is the only player who receives abuse from opposing fans and is loved by the Norwich fan base. The striker is known for his sizeable build which was emphasised when scoring his second goal away at Swansea and removing his shirt – much to the frustration of the home supporters as the Canaries left victorious in the battle of the promotion sides.
The entire season has been surreal. The Canaries have exceeded any pre-season expectations and performances alone have entertained the fans, matched with some incredible results. The win of the season has to be away to Spurs. Elliott Bennett has been a great performer for Norwich although his first goal did not come until April and it was a screamer! The former Brighton winger scored the vital second goal in an unbelievable 2-1 victory. Tottenham’s top four finish was put into jeopardy and Harry Redknapp himself praised Norwich’s performance, admitting that the better side won.
Another outstanding result was against Tottenham’s North London rivals, Arsenal. The Yellow’s left with a point however led for large spells of the game. Arsenal did bring the score back to 3-2 in their favour but Steve Morison stepped up with a great last minute strike much to the frustration of the home side who were also fighting for the top four spot at the time.
Two very satisfying results were away to Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City. In the battle of the promoted sides, Norwich left victorious at both venues. Norwich and QPR have developed a touch of rivalry after Bradley Johnson and the controversial Joey Barton clashed in an off the ball incident leading to Barton’s dismissal. The row continued over twitter in the typical Joey Barton fashion along with Johnson brandishing a “Barton, your breath stinks” sign at the darts. The pair will be interesting to watch when the sides meet next season.
Swansea City’s home form has been nothing short of phenomenal. In February when Norwich travelled to the Liberty Stadium, remarkably, only Manchester United had left with all three points. Norwich scored three goals in a thrilling game with the score finishing 3-2 after a late penalty for Swansea. Both supporters were fantastic in a thrilling Canaries win.
Head in hands moment.
The two games against the Blue side of Manchester were the worst results for Norwich. The Yellow’s finished both games the wrong side of a 6-1 thrashing and there was no margin for error against the newly crowned Premier League Champions. Individual errors along with the sky Blues superiority were simply too much. Norwich were overwhelmed away from home, however for 70 minutes at Carrow Road, there was some optimism at 1-2. Though, in the end, Argentine strike duo Tevez and Aguero in particular were too much to handle. Manchester City went on to win the league however the Canaries showed character not to crumble after the first loss, showing great spirit.
The result that caused the most upset was against Manchester United at Carrow Road. City went behind from an early Paul Scholes header after poor defending. Norwich threatened De Gea’s goal throughout and the young Spanish keeper made some world class saves. The Canaries scored an 84th minute deserved leveller and the points looked to be shared. However, Ryan Giggs grabbed an injury time winner in a dramatic finale giving United the win.
Along with the Canaries’ performance, a highlight from the game was United old boys Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. The Red’s pair were a pleasure to watch and will go down in history as two of the best players in Premier League history. Despite them both being in the wrong side of their 30’s, together they created United’s pressure and the football was appreciated from all sections of Carrow Road.
Who are your realistic transfer targets for this summer?
Initially, the main priority was to keep three times player of the year Grant Holt. Since his transfer request, Norwich may have to accept the 31 year old will move on after announcing on his twitter “Just to stop the rumour mill again. I have expressed to the board and the CEO that I want to leave the football club. Due to disagreements”.
Holt played in the recent game for Adam Drury’s testimonial and received a hero’s welcome from the Norwich supporters despite the request, and Chief executive David McNally has issued a statement announcing that he is not for sale. Holt’s outspoken tweets may indicate he has no choice but to sell despite the support.
Also, my original article stated that as long as Norwich kept Lambert, losing Holt would make little difference, the situation then took a turn for the worst as the saviour will leave and Norwich will have to move on and accept and appreciate what he has done for the team as he has performed miracles at the club.
The most important job for the club is to find a suitable manager capable of warming to the fans hearts and continue with what the genius left the club with. Birmingham City’s Chris Hughton has been mentioned but he will come at a cost simply too high for Norwich.
Alan Curbishley is a good manager out of a job and has a proven track record in the Premier League and he could be a great possibility.
Former Huddersfield manager Lee Clark who was harshly sacked midway through last season is another potential replacement. He was Glen Roeder’s number two at Carrow Road in 2007-2008 and knows the club extremely well. He did a fantastic job at Huddersfield and played some great football. He could be an excellent option as he is young and could possibly compared to Brendon Rogers as his play suited Premiership football with passing, attacking, attractive football.
Personally, the only man who can fit the description of immediately warming to the fans hearts and continuing the great legacy Lambert has left is Malky Mackay. The former City player is a club legend and has worked with limited resources in the past at Watford and currently Cardiff. Already having great connections with the club during his playing career, he will fit straight in and take the club forward giving the fans belief after the disappointment of losing Lambert.
Prior to Lambert’s departure, the outgoings had already started with Zak Whitbread and Aaron Wilbraham failing to be offered new contracts. Adam Drury is also due for departure after the goodbyes at his testimonial to mark his 11 years of incredible service to the club.
The Norwich City defence has been a talking point of the season, only managing to keep three clean sheets. Injuries meant that Lambert had to swap and change his defence around with Russell Martin filling in as a makeshift centre-back for much of the time. Scott Dann and Roger Johnson are two great defenders who have had a tough season since their moves from Birmingham City to Blackburn and Wolves respectively. They both, without a doubt, have huge potential and the possibility of linking up again could be an attractive proposition for a club like Norwich to reignite their careers.
Matt Mills has also been mentioned as the £5 million former Reading player has struggled at Leicester. He may be too expensive for the Canaries and would be a costly gamble.
Norwich have already taken Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson from Leeds. Another name in the pipeline is Robert Snodgrass. The tricky young winger has set the Championship alight and was linked with the Canaries last season. With Leeds failing to gain promotion, they will have a tough fight to keep the left winger, with Norwich offering top flight football along with two former teammates to lure him to Carrow Road.
Thomas Ince is another winger that would fit in well at Carrow Road. He has been on loan at Blackpool from Liverpool and was instrumental in their promotion push which came to an end in the playoff final against West Ham. A permanent transfer would not be an option as he will have a bright future at Anfield however a loan move would suit both parties giving the youngster vital Premier League experience.
Kyle Naughton has been a great loan signing from Spurs. Another season at Carrow Road would develop his career, strengthen the Norwich side and as Spurs teammate Kyle Walker has nailed his right back position, Naughton would be guaranteed first team football.
If Naughton does not re-sign for another season, Crystal Palace youngster Nathaniel Clyne is a great prospect. Newcastle United are in pole position to sign the right back. However, despite the fact that he is out of contract, Palace are eligible for compensation from any potential suitors, which could cause a stumbling block, and the Canaries could take advantage of this.
Unless the Grant Holt situation takes a dramatic turnaround, and with Wilbraham already departed, Norwich are desperately short in attack. Hugo Rodallega has been released by Wigan and even though the striker only scored two Premier League goals last season, he could make a fresh start to his career at Norwich.
Andy Johnson is also a free transfer since his release by Fulham. He has not really continued his incredible form since leaving Crystal Palace, which has mainly been due to injuries over the years, however he is a proven goal scorer and if he maintains his fitness, he could be a great possibility.
Another free transfer is former Bolton forward Ivan Klasnic. He is a similar build to Holt and the Croatian international could fill the void of the number 9 position. His possible destination lies in Germany but he could be tempted with another season in the Premier League at Norwich.
Dani Pacheco, who was a great success at Norwich in the Championship, has been linked with a return to the club. He recently made a return to Carrow Road after a cameo appearance in Drury’s testimonial where he received a great reception from the fans. The pint sized former Barcelona forward has been on loan at La Liga side Rayo Vallecano and his flair could light up the Premier League.
Queens Park Rangers’ DJ Campbell is a player that has not been given a chance at the London club. He tore defences apart whilst at Blackpool and has been rather a waste at the hoops. With QPR expected to flourish with their millions, he could be available for a budget price and would be welcomed at Carrow Road.
Jordan Rhodes is a sought after striker since his incredible season at Huddersfield scoring 40 goals in all competitions. Price may become a stumbling block especially as a host of Premier League teams have been linked with the former Ipswich forward. If Lee Clark was to be offered the managerial position at Carrow Road, the possibility of linking up with the man who signed him for Huddersfield could be an attractive proposition.
Expectations for next season?
For some at Carrow Road, a top half of the season finish will be a goal for the Canaries. However, second season syndrome can play a part for many who have had a successful season the year before. Hull City is a perfect example of this as they struggled in their second season in top flight football. With some money available in the summer and the right man to replace Lambert, Norwich could establish themselves as a regular Premier League side and could even be an outsider for a Europa League spot though personally, without getting carried away, just to see Norwich maintain top flight football is enough to keep me satisfied.
Norwich had a disappointing cup campaign last season falling short against Mk Dons in the Carling Cup, and Leicester in the FA Cup. A possible expectation would be to have a decent cup run which Norwich has not seen for years.
Overall, this has been an incredible season for the Canaries. They have surprised many including themselves with some outstanding performances and results. The players possibly accepted that Lambert’s success would eventually take him away from Carrow Road and the fans have to realise that it happens in football. Appreciate what Lambert has achieved as it has been nothing short of a miracle. Back the future manager and Norwich’s new man can take off and continue with the stability Lambert left and establish Norwich City as a Premier League team.
You can follow James on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/JCossey7