Let’s bring on the big boys, Norwich City
There are not many times in your career as a professional footballer when you are afforded the luxury of taking to the pitch full in the knowledge that the result is basically irrelevant.
Yet that was the situation the Norwich players could enjoy against Coventry on Saturday.
With promotion already in the bag, it was time to party at Carrow Road. And more than 26,000 fans did precisely that.
It was a carnival atmosphere before, during and after the game, and you can be sure that the extended celebrations after the final whistle, and particularly the fitting tribute the crowd bestowed on the City players by honouring each and every member of the squad in turn, will be something that will be forever etched in those players’ memories.
As for the game itself, well, it started brightly enough with both teams looking to attack at every opportunity and the game effectively taking the form of a basketball match with play quickly switching from one end to the other.
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But after 20 minutes or so, both understandably decided to take their foot off the gas and enjoy a bit of a breather.
The second half, though, was full of entertainment and excitement.
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Coventry took the lead, and that seemed to sting the Canaries into life, because within 10 minutes of falling behind, goals in quick succession from newly-crowned player of the season Grant Holt and Dani Pacheco, an excellent individual effort, meant City suddenly found themselves with a 2-1 lead.
Norwich then started to produce passages of play when they zipped the ball about the pitch with real quality, and they threatened to rack up the goals in a manner that has seen them finish the division’s top scorers.
Given that they had made the game as evenly contested as it was, though, and played with genuine conviction even though they too had nothing of any real substance to play for, I suppose a share of the spoils was the least Coventry deserved, and a fair reflection of the balance of play.
But although Lukas Jutkiewicz’s goal might have taken the gloss off the scoreline and denied the Canaries a winning send-off to a truly amazing campaign, for once it didn’t matter at all, because their season’s work had already been completed.
I know it’s already been said a million times, but you really have to pinch yourself to make sure that what has happened at Carrow Road over the last two seasons really has taken place.
The place has been totally transformed.
And you know what? The momentum that has been accumulated over that period of time is showing absolutely no signs of stopping.
So bring on the Premier League big boys!
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – MARC TIERNEY: I suppose it really would be fitting to award the final man of the match award to Paul Lambert and his entire team considering what they have achieved this season. But purely on the 90 minutes of Saturday’s game, it’s the City left-back who gets my vote. Defensively he broke up much of Coventry’s attacking play, and he complemented that by regularly getting forward down the left flank to provide an outlet when City were looking to move forward. On top of that, he provided a peach of a cross for Grant Holt’s 23rd goal of the season, and if nothing else he deserves the award for his unique cartwheeling celebrations that summed up the mood of everyone!