Chris Goreham: It wasn't perfect but promotion can cut through anything
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There were fireworks outside Carrow Road on Saturday but Norwich City were losing.
In the morning Swansea were 15 points behind and Brentford were 17 adrift of City but they could still catch up.
Both challengers ended the day a point closer to the Canaries but no longer had a chance of chasing them down. Thousands of Carrow Road regulars were celebrating but couldn’t actually be together. It was a suitably surreal way to clinch promotion in the strangest of seasons.
There was no big moment to remember. What you really want is a winning goal, like Nathan Redmond’s at Wembley in 2015 or those scored by Simeon Jackson, Mario Vrancic and Michael Nelson in promotion campaigns gone by. That could be either the football romantic in me or the selfish commentator. In this job you do hope to have a microphone in your hand, calling the moment that promotion is guaranteed. This time I was at home furiously refreshing my phone to see whether the final whistle had gone in the game between Swansea and Wycombe Wanderers.
Saturday may not have been the perfect day but it did prove that the taste of promotion is sweet enough to cut through any amount of bitterness.
League campaigns are not truly decided by single magic moments.
It’s all about month after month of hard work, bloody mindedness and the determination to grind out points. For every 7-0 win over Huddersfield there are several nerve-shredding single goal successes over Wycombe, Birmingham and Rotherham. Those are the often quickly forgotten matches that add up to mean a team can be mathematically promoted with five games to spare. A 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth doesn’t really matter when you’ve managed not to lose any of the previous 19 home games.
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It was all that pent up energy as much as the champagne itself that sent the corks popping into the air on Saturday.
It was a long time after the final whistle before the Norwich City players returned to the pitch for the most public celebration of their Premier League return that is currently possible.
With no supporters allowed in to lap up a lap of honour and no possibility of a civic reception in the city centre this would have to do. After their post-match interviews the players and coaching staff went off to a private celebration somewhere inside Carrow Road. No-one was going to burst this yellow and green bubble.
The fact that very few supporters have been able to go to a game this season has made it a particularly tough one to follow. There is no disguising that the behind closed doors nature of the campaign has robbed it of the folklore that it deserves.
Promotion campaigns of the past have been coloured in by the tales from the terraces that have accompanied them. It’s been 14 months since Carrow Road was last full. Saturday was the day when the empty seats in the stands have been most agonising. That would have been some night if 27,000 supporters had been allowed in. Bournemouth’s Ben Pearson would have had a very different experience given some of his first-half theatrics.
None of this should detract from what the players have achieved.
Daniel Farke has, in the most relentless of seasons, somehow managed to pick up a squad that was battered and bruised by relegation. They took just four points from the first four games and were a Tim Krul penalty save away from going 2-0 down at Rotherham in the fifth.
Ben Godfrey had just been sold and there were question marks about the commitment of Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell. Questions that were being publicly posed by the head coach himself.
To go from there to clinching promotion with five games to spare is a remarkable achievement. All being well the next Carrow Road full house will be in The Premier League.
The season isn’t over yet and if there is one man who deserves to get his hands on a shiny silver trophy it is Grant Hanley.
The Canaries captain has often hauled the team over the line in tense games this season. Nothing underlined his determination more than the moment against Bournemouth when he looked set to come off injured.
The fourth official’s board was already up. It had Hanley’s number 5 on it and Alex Tettey was stripped and ready to come on. The Carrow Road PA announcer had already told us that Hanley was being replaced by Tettey.
Then, as he got to the touchline, the big Scottish international had one of those moments us mere mortals can only dream of. It was like a Popeye cartoon when the spinach kicks in.
Hanley told the fourth official to put his board down and Tettey to get back in his tracksuit. He was coming back on.
One must hope that no long-term damage was done by his determination to return to the pitch. Much has been made of City’s greater defensive resolve this season. It’s worth remembering that Hanley’s run in the first team last season coincided with a promising set of results just before the first lockdown. He was absent for the entire run of miserable defeats that followed Project Restart.
Saturday was the 38th Championship game in a row that Hanley had started. The first of that run was the aforementioned 2-1 win at Rotherham in October that marked an early turning point in the campaign. He’d only benefit enough to start a total of 20 league matches in the previous two seasons combined.
With Ben Gibson, the other member of City’s formidable defensive partnership, breaking down a few weeks ago perhaps the toll of this season is just beginning to show.
Teemu Pukki also needed lengthy treatment at one stage on Saturday and looked a little rusty when the second half began. He was soon replaced and, unlike his skipper, he doesn’t have a glare powerful enough to cancel the substitution himself.
All being well more celebrations will follow when Norwich City are crowned champions before too long. I’m not sure what the plan is for a possible trophy presentation but whoever is organising it should probably check-in with Grant Hanley first. He gets things done at Carrow Road.