Let’s reflect on wonderful Premier League campaign for Norwich City
Nine months, 39 weeks, 274 days – however you wish to look at it, it will have been a very long season by the time referee Martin Atkinson blows the final whistle at Carrow Road on Sunday.
One sometimes wonders whether 38 Premier League games really need to be stretched out over quite such a period, but those Norwich City fans who can’t cope with the lack of football over summer break will probably be grateful for as long a campaign as possible.
The bad news for you all is that the new Premier League season does not get under way until Saturday, August 18, a week later than last year to avoid a clash with the Olympic Games.
For now, though, let’s reflect on a memorable journey for the Canaries with some of the end-of-season “Oscars” – purely a personal choice and I’m sure we won’t get much of a consensus . . .
• Best home performance: The 4-2 win against Newcastle tops the list, with City’s air force demolishing the Magpies. The goalless draw against Chelsea runs it close – the first clean sheet of the season against a multi-million pound strike force.
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• Worst home performance: Leaving aside two abysmal Cup exits, it has to be the 3-0 defeat by Liverpool. It may have been a great hat-trick by Luis Suarez but all three goals were presented on a plate, and City offered very little in reply.
• Best away performance: Plenty of candidates here but the 2-1 win at Tottenham on Easter Monday was the result of the season, given the quality of the opposition. This was no fluke. The victory could have been more emphatic if referee Oliver – please can we have no more – had not missed two clear penalties.
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• Worst away performance: An easy decision, this one – Sunderland. It was all over in less than half an hour, poor reward for 800 travelling fans on a Wednesday night in February. It was as if the presence of the “Gaffer” in the opposite dug-out had an inhibiting effect.
• Most entertaining game: Last week’s 3-3 draw at Arsenal had absolutely everything except perhaps for at least two penalties that should have been awarded – one to each side. Some of City’s football was, as the manager rightly said, brilliant. The last 20 minutes was nerve-shredding.
• Least entertaining game: The 1-0 defeat at Stoke was a soulless affair at the blustery Britannia Stadium. Even the winning goal came from a throw-in that was given the wrong way. The only real quality on show was Stoke’s 1972 League Cup winners, on the pitch before kick-off.
• Best goal scored by City: A tough one, this, but Grant Holt has many of the contenders in this category. His equaliser at Anfield gets my vote for the quality of the cross by Anthony Pilkington, a brave and brilliant header in front of two defenders and the ’keeper, and the fact it was in front of the Kop.
• Best goal scored against City: Sorry Mr Suarez, but Sergio Aguero’s second goal for Manchester City at Carrow Road – after taking possession on halfway – involved more work, and it was a magnificent finish.
• Worst goal conceded: Samir Nasri’s free-kick at Manchester City was one that got away from John Ruddy, and Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal at Villa came with yellow and green ribbons on it. But Carlos Tevez’s hat-trick clincher in the return fixture tops the lot – it was as soft as they come.
• Save of the season: So many contenders from Ruddy and his deputies, but it probably has to be the late save from Suarez at Anfield to earn the Canaries a point.
• Player of the season: As I said last week, Ruddy for me with Holt and Wes Hoolahan close behind.
• Signing of the season: Despite slipping a little out of favour in recent weeks, I’d say Anthony Pilkington.
He is not afraid to run at defenders, delivers a mean cross and eight Premier League goals is a decent return in his first season.
• Best opponents: With an 11-2 “aggregate” victory over the Canaries, it can only be Manchester City. After a few lapses, their plan to buy the Premier League title looks set to succeed.
• Worst opponents: Sorry, but it has to be Bolton. Over two games against City they were really awful, apart from Martin Petrov, who looked a fine player.
• Worst refereeing performance: Form a queue, gents. Mark Halsey at home to West Bromwich Albion, and Michael Oliver at Tottenham are among the front-runners.
But Andr� Marriner in the home game against Everton scored highest on the moan-ometer.
Best visiting fans: Their level of support has been ridiculed at times, but all credit to the hardy 281 Wigan fans who turned up at Carrow Road for a Sunday 4pm kick-off. They were rewarded when their team took a well-deserved point – and produced an amazing finish to the season.
• Bad loser of the season: Neil Warnock does the double here. After Queens Park Rangers’ 2-1 defeat at Carrow Road it was: “I can’t believe we haven’t won the game. I feel like I’ve been robbed . . . I don’t think it’s easy to take when I believe we should have won the game.” And after the same score in the return fixture: “It seems to happen every time we play Norwich. We seem to get people sent off wrongly and decisions go against us. It’s totally out of order. I think Johnson should be done, if I’m honest. I think we’ve been mugged left, right and centre.”
• Chant of the season: The Sloop John B is becoming a bit of a cracked record, but the Old Trafford chorus showed a subtlety not always associated with football fans: “We’re Norwich City, we’ve come for our scarves.”
• Quote of the season: “I don’t know who he is but he’s flown right into our area. I’m not fluent in Portuguese but if he understands Glaswegian then he might know what I said” – Paul Lambert reacts to Chelsea fitness coach Jose Mario Rocha encroaching in his technical area at Stamford Bridge.