Ian Clarke: Thank you Norwich City for a truly fantastic season
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
And now you’re going believe us…we’re going to the Premier League!
We may have gone through a nervy day or four during the run-in – but we’ve made it!
If my maths are right, this is my eighth promotion as a Norwich City fan. This has certainly been among my favourites, mainly because it has been so totally unexpected.
Put your hands up if you expected Daniel Farke’s troops to seal the jump to the most lucrative domestic league in the world with a game to spare?
Mmmmm, thought that would be the case (and for any of you waving at me, take a look at your honesty!).
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Way back in August our collective levels of anticipation were pretty low. We’d been through a hugely frustrating season of under-achievement and uninspiring football. Yes, that lot from down the A140 had even finished above us. Think about that for a moment. It was that bad.
The talismanic figure of James Maddison – who was a shining light in a campaign of too little brightness - had predictably flown the nest for the top flight.
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As always at the start of the season there was optimism in some quarters. However, reality was the overriding theme among fans.
My fellow columnist Dave Hannant and I had gone for the “play-offs if the wind is in the right direction” in our forecasts in the run-up to the curtain-raiser at Birmingham.
I’m sure the echoes of chortling are still ringing around the office. Tenth or below was the general opinion.
Onel Hernandez’s double to grab that point at Brum was a decent start, albeit in a “this will see us do slightly better than last year” context.
Defeats to West Brom and Sheffield United plus a late win over Preston didn’t raise the joy levels too high.
For many, the “men v boys” home drubbing by Leeds was too much. It highlighted where we were at. It confirmed for them that Farke wasn’t the man for the job.
We could so easily have lost that East Anglian Derby and had City’s long, long dominance of the bragging rights ended, who knows what could have happened? Maybe, just maybe that was the turning point.
An international break seemed to work wonders and all of a sudden the quiet upward journey began.
Four wins on the spin during September and a decent point at Frank Lampard’s Derby started to galvanise belief.
A victory at Forest was followed by three points against Villa. Maybe we really were on to something.
The progress was still gradual and modest.
Then came a 4-0 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday on their own patch. We don’t do things like that at Hillsborough.
At about 4.45pm on November 10, it looked like the bubble had burst as City went into added on time against Millwall 3-2 down.
Of all the mad, crazy, Farke time, Teemu Pukki-inspired periods in this amazing season, that explosion of resilience and courage to secure the incredible win against the Lions topped the lot.
It encapsulated the belief, togetherness and a never-say-die spirit which has become the DNA underpinning the joyous promotion surge. Forest at home, Leeds away, Bolton away, Boro away and QPR at home – in different ways – had aspects which defined our dominance.
We’ve been treated to mouth-watering, delicious football. We’ve seen bouncebackability of the highest order. And to have been defeated just once in 2019 has been season-defining. If you can’t win, don’t lose – that mantra has made a massive difference.
Farke and Stuart Webber deserve unending praise for their strategy in shaping what has happened this year.
Pukki’s goal-scoring feats – along with his tireless work and infectious positivity – have been at the heart of the success
So many others have contributed. It’s been a campaign where there have surely been more player of the season contenders than any other.
Christoph Zimmermann has been an absolute colossus at the back. With Ben Godfrey – who so many of us assumed was a central midfielder – he has formed a partnership which I’ll be more than happy to start with in the Premier League. I just can’t stop watching that clip of him chasing back to win a vital tackle at Stoke.
Those two are sandwiched between the most exciting young full-back duo I’ve ever seen in Norwich shirts. Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons will relish taking on the very best wingers in the land next term.
Emi Buendia’s record says it all. When the little wizard doesn’t play, Norwich don’t win.
Marco Stiepermann – who to my shame I once asked on a Pink Un podcast what he actually offers the team – has been magnificent.
Tim Krul has divided opinion for much of the season. He has grown in stature and influence and pulled off a string of match defining saves – and remember, he has played every minute of the league campaign.
Mario Vrancic’s goals and guile, Tommy Trybull’s contribution in the engine room, Onel’s pace and strength, Mo Leitner’s quality – especially earlier in the campaign – have all been key. And on a personal note it’s been superb to see the emergence of Dereham’s finest Todd Cantwell.
Thank you, Norwich City, for a truly fantastic season.