Norwich City report card: Magnificent Mario was City’s trump card
PUBLISHED: 12:10 24 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:15 02 June 2019
Mario Vrancic was at the sharp end when it came to Norwich City earning promotion to the Premier League and the Championship title. Paddy Davitt reflects on a story that jumped off the page, in the latest of our report card series.
Promotion clincher. Title clincher. Mario Vrancic's sense of timing for champions Norwich City was faultless.
In the interests of a better story we can gloss over the small detail Sheffield United's failure to beat Stoke City on the final day of the season ensured City's title triumph.
But those in action at Villa Park on a raucous, colourful occasion in green and yellow opted to take matters into their own hands. None more so than the classy Bosnian international.
That low, unerring strike into the bottom right-hand corner, following a team move started by Tim Krul, sparked another wave of euphoria and wild celebrations.
It confirmed Norwich's Championship coronation, after Vrancic's fantastic strike had rubber-stamped promotion the previous weekend at Carrow Road against Blackburn.
Add in that 97th-minute stoppage time equaliser to thwart Sheffield Wednesday on Good Friday and it would be difficult to argue Vrancic was the most influential Norwich player in the defining act of a memorable season.
The calmness and the composure, the breathtaking technique and technical excellence to whip that last-gasp free-kick over the Owls' wall and into the top corner was simply sublime. It was the cut and thrust of a skilled showman.
It also whets the appetite for what the 30-year-old might be able to do in the Premier League. He will certainly not look out of place among the artists and the ballers.
But Vrancic also added a snap and a bite to his work in his two seasons of Championship graft. That added another dimension to his game and may give him the edge of midfield ranks at Daniel Farke's disposal.
Only ankle ligament damage suffered in the 3-0 derby win at home to Ipswich Town curtailed his leading role over the second part of the past season, after injury and the form of others kept him in the shadows prior to Christmas.
Vrancic was named the PFA fans' Championship player of the month in January. Before his delicious late season cameo there was another vital salvo in an epic, mood-changing contest against Leeds at Elland Road.
Marcelo Bielsa's men would have gone seven points clear in early February if they had beaten City. Vrancic quelled the noise from the passionate home support with another of those unerringly accurate free kicks after just five minutes and sealed the victory in the closing stages.
It was a result which propelled promotion rivals in different directions.
Stuart Webber has since remarked it was the game when he really believed the Premier League had ranged into view for the Canaries as a realistic proposition. Leeds stumbled on before succumbing in the play-offs. Had Vrancic not dazzled in Yorkshire that night it is fair to assume the story for both clubs may have had a very different ending.
When you look back in years to come at Norwich's Championship title win, Vrancic will be front and centre when it comes to savouring the key moments and critical interventions.
Given he clocked up only 14 league starts that perhaps illustrates the clinical edge to his productivity.
A belated recall to the Bosnian squad for upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers next month is personal reward and recognition.
If he can harness such consistency and continue to produce in the Premier League next season he can expect plenty more call ups.