Lee Payne: Misery is never far away for Premier League teams - as Norwich found out
- Credit: PA
This season has been an awful one for Norwich City and its conclusion on Sunday can’t come soon enough.
Previous relegations hurt. Aged 12 I went for an impromptu walk as City were being thrashed by Fulham in 2005, rendered unable to speak by disappointment. The last time this happened, in 2016, I joined thousands of others and applauded the players after the last home game against Watford because there was a recognition that they’d given it their all and they had just come up short.
This one feels different. The feeling of disappointment is not so strong. Maybe it’s because it’s a familiar situation – Norwich have now been relegated from the Premier League on five occasions – and maybe because the behind-closed-doors nature of the last two months have made me feel detached from it all.
It could just be, though, because this relegation felt inevitable for quite a while. It’s not a nice thing to think about, but I believe it’s important to realise what a stinker City have had this year.
They’ve broken several records. Their 12 home losses were the most since 1946-47. With the trip to Manchester City the only fixture remaining, the Canaries have suffered eight consecutive league defeats – a club record. Burnley was their 25th reverse of the campaign, a Norwich team has never been beaten more often in a single season.
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That first few weeks, when Newcastle were played off the park, Teemu Pukki was the league’s player of the month and when Pep Guardiola’s City fled Carrow Road with their tails between their legs feels like an awfully long time ago.
The club would have known they were taking something of a gamble when the squad that won the Championship title in such entertaining fashion was barely altered last summer. I don’t think this was particularly the wrong approach – too often promoted teams are torn apart and the spirit and chemistry that got them up in the first place is lost, and splashing the cash is certainly no guarantee of success.
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As I write this there is still a strong chance that Aston Villa will also be relegated, and they have spent an eye-watering amount of money. It’s hard to deny that an experienced defender would have given City more of a chance, though.
Sporting director Stuart Webber’s interviews last week should restore the faith of City supporters. He has rarely failed to impress when speaking to the media in his three years working for the club and his latest appearance was a masterclass in realism, honesty and not making excuses.
He said Norwich had “gone into a war without a gun”, and that sums it up as well as anyone could. They were already relying on the entire squad performing at their absolute maximum for the whole season. Add the ludicrously bad luck they suffered with injuries and staying in the Premier League was never really on the cards.
It is rather sad that someone running a football club being honest should be so refreshing, but that is the state of the game now.
Some could have said the players had let them down, the manager wasn’t up to scratch, that VAR decisions made all the difference. But Webber said of course they wanted to stay up, it hasn’t worked out that way and it’s not the end of the world.
From a personal point of view, there is one thing that has rubbed a little extra salt into the wound. A close friend of mine supports Leeds United. They have just been promoted (at last), and so for the first time in the 10 years we have known each other his team will be in a higher division than mine. If I could offer him any advice – I feel I’m experienced enough in miserable Premier League seasons to do so – it would be to savour that promotion feeling. Misery isn’t far away.