City in the top flight: An epic fightback that fell apart
- Credit: Archant Library/Nathan Clarke
As our review of previous Norwich City seasons in the top flight continue, David Freezer looks back on the dramatic relegation campaign of 2004-05.
There was little room for sentiment as Nigel Worthington looked to swiftly upgrade his Canaries squad following their Championship title win.
Having decided not to take Iwan Roberts on the top-flight adventure as a 35-year-old, after eight goals in 42 games that season, City’s boss also cut another popular player from his squad.
Despite an influential role and only being 32, Worthington sold Malky Mackay to West Ham for £300,000 after bringing in Simon Charlton from Bolton for a similar fee. The Scotland international had been named in the Division One team of the season by his peers at the PFA, alongside keeper Robert Green, during the title triumph.
Denmark international full-back Thomas Helveg was signed on a free transfer from Inter Milan and talented Arsenal midfielder David Bentley joined on loan, as well as Sweden international forward Mattias Jonson from Brondby.
Defensive midfielder Youssef Safri was brought in from Coventry and Ireland international Gary Doherty, a forward or centre-back, from Tottenham.
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They joined the likes of Darren Huckerby, Leon McKenzie, Adam Drury, Damien Francis and Craig Fleming in Worthington’s squad – but it proved a frustrating start to the season.
The newly-promoted Canaries failed to win any of their opening 13 matches as encouraging performances failed to earn wins but draws kept alive hopes of better times ahead, including with Newcastle, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
Search for goals
City were bottom and winless in mid-November but still within six points of 12th heading into game 14 of the campaign – when Southampton were beaten 2-1 thanks to a Francis double at Carrow Road.
Coming from behind twice and enjoying a late winner from Mathias Svensson earned a 3-2 home win over Bolton soon after but four defeats in the next five games left City 18th and two points from safety after a 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool in early January.
Only rock-bottom West Brom had scored fewer than 19 in 22 matches and Worthington responded by splashing the cash to bring in Dean Ashton from Crewe for £3.5million.
The striker scored on his home debut, during the epic comeback from 4-1 down to draw 4-4 with Middlesbrough at Carrow Road, and brought a new dimension to the forward line.
Seven goals in 16 games was a very decent return, tying with McKenzie and midfielder Francis on seven goals as top scorers – leaving many to wonder how the season would have panned out if Ashton had been signed in the summer.
Close to an epic escape
Helped by the return of Bentley and Helveg from injury, with youngster Jason Shackell being preferred alongside Fleming in central defence, a special Norfolk night sparked what looked to be a great escape.
Prior to goals from Ashton and McKenzie nearly taking the roof off Carrow Road as Manchester United were beaten 2-0 at Carrow Road in early April, City were bottom and seven points from safety with seven games to play.
Home wins over Newcastle, Charlton and Birmingham continued the resurgence and should have been added to by a win at Crystal Palace, when a 3-1 lead was pegged back to 3-3 by a penalty won and dispatched by Andrew Johnson which left Norwich furious.
Those results combined to haul Norwich out of the bottom three and leave their fate in their own hands on the final day, with just three points covering the bottom four and teeing up ‘Survival Sunday’.
The tumultuous 6-0 defeat at Fulham which followed would leave deep-rooted damage, as West Brom clambered off the bottom of the table to survive, leaving Baggies boss Bryan Robson being held aloft amid a pitch invasion at The Hawthorns – after the Canaries had done so well to move to the verge of safety.
The shining light
Having been pipped to the prize by Craig Fleming during the title triumph of 2003-04, despite proving such a talismanic influence, Darren Huckerby was lifting the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy.
Seven goals from 40 games in all competitions ensured the speedy winger was one City’s top performers amid their struggles, also leading the way with six league assists.
The speedy winger continued to excite supporters with his attacking play and scored one of City's best goals of the season when he blasted into the top corner at Highbury to make it 2-1 midway through the first half, in a game that reigning champions Arsenal eventually won 4-1.
Top prize in the goal stakes went to Youssef Safri though, unleashing a 30-yard thunderbolt to open the scoring in a 2-1 win over Newcastle, which went down as one of the all-time great Carrow Road long-range strikes.
But moment of the season? That had to go Adam Drury, for the last-gasp header which capped the remarkable fightback to draw 4-4 with Boro, as the left-back scored one of just four goals he would manage in 361 appearances.