Party mood leads to highly untypical finale
Chris Lakey Norwich City 0, Carlisle United 2: The freedom to walk on to the Carrow Road pitch, microphone in hand, and make an impromptu address to City fans is usually the exclusive right of the club's owners.
Norwich City 0, Carlisle United 2
The freedom to walk on to the Carrow Road pitch, microphone in hand, and make an impromptu address to City fans is usually the exclusive right of the club's owners.
Delia Smith he is not, but Paul Lambert now enjoys the freedom of Carrow Road - perhaps the freedom of the city of Norwich and the right to drive his players through the streets on an open-top bus - and used it on Saturday to say a special thank-you to supporters for their part in the club's title triumph.
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After a long season spent repelling all but the most obstinate of boarders, Lambert can do just about anything he wants, now that the League One trophy and a return ticket to the Championship have been acquired.
It's been Lambert's habit to watch from afar as his players and their supporters do their stuff.
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It's his style to watch them celebrate wins together and console each other in rare defeats. When either happens, he praises them both.
On Saturday, all three came together for an afternoon rarely witnessed at Carrow Road.
An hour and a half of football was simply a support act to the grand finale, with Carlisle forgetting their lines and stealing the points inside seven minutes with a pair of sucker goals.
Had this match been played a month ago it wouldn't have happened because it would have mattered an awful lot more.
But City played with their party hats on - they just couldn't wait to get it started. And why not?
Lambert threw a training top into the crowd as he and his management team brought up the rear in the lap of honour - something we haven't seen for a few years - and sprayed champagne like a naughty schoolboy. Everyone was soaked, everyone was smiling, everyone was singing and dancing.
Beach balls and balloons littered the perimeter of the pitch, while up in the visiting sections a group of Carlisle fans were dressed as chefs, holding a banner that read “There's Only One Fanny Craddock”.
Delia had her own chef's hat on at the end as she celebrated in the directors' box. City fans applauded the visitors - worthy winners - off the pitch and Carlisle's travelling support stayed as long as it's possible to wait when you face a 300-mile trek home, to applaud the League One champions.
A nice touch and one that repeated the acknowledgement at Bristol Rovers a week earlier - perhaps Norwich have won a few more friends in the world of football than some other teams.
While supporters of Leeds, Millwall, Charlton, Swindon and Huddersfield all suffered varying degrees of nervous tension, City had earned the right to relax.
If they'd played in their slippers no one would have cared that much.
Pre-match was all about the Player of the Season award, with Grant Holt's 30 goals rightly sufficient to earn him the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy ahead of Fraser Forster and Gary Doherty.
That Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin didn't get on the podium says a lot about the quality of this City side.
The match itself was over almost as soon as it had started and eventually became about waiting for goals at Elland Road and The New Den. When Gary Madine put Carlisle ahead inside a minute it looked like a minor inconvenience, the only damage being that it ended hopes of Fraser Forster equalling Kevin Keelan's record of 19 clean sheets in a season.
When Ian Harte's free-kick on seven minutes grazed the hair of Jason Price and beat Forster, it was all about having a good time. The game was gone, the players too wrapped up in the atmosphere; it just wasn't there.
It was as convivial on the pitch as it was off: Korey Smith, Russell Martin and Chris Martin had chances, but didn't take them. Holt was noticeable by his absence. The defence, particularly in the core, looked shaky. Perhaps the brightest element to City's performance was that Wes Hoolahan can miss half a dozen games and still be the best player.
Forster was subbed just before the end so that he could receive a personalised standing ovation - a sensible move not just to acknowledge his part in the success story, but to remind him of how much he's wanted next season.
The temptation was - and is - to pick holes, but this wasn't a Norwich City performance as we know it. You can't judge who will start the first game of the new season on this game, although there were plenty willing to try.
Perhaps best to judge on the previous 42 games under Lambert, when City acquired a resistance to defeat and an eagerness to win that will serve them well next season.
Lambert undoubtedly has work to do: it's a side which needs stronger back-up, that needs pace and width and perhaps someone to help Hoolahan in midfield.
If the out-of-contract Gary Doherty and Darel Russell aren't around on August 7 it will mean replacing two major players, and while every summer at Carrow Road is “interesting” for differing reasons, not all of them good, this one is certainly one on which to keep a careful eye.
With little in the kitty, Lambert has to get his signings spot on: he knows he can't afford wastage and to be fair his track record on signings is pretty decent.
But help is what they need: Holt's pragmatic post-match assessment that fans shouldn't expect too much will be shared by those who have witnessed the events of recent seasons, particularly the last two.
Don't forget, getting out of League One was forced on this side by the dire incompetence of last season.
Which leads us back to Paul Lambert, a man who has returned credibility to Norwich City Football Club, which was a laughing stock on day one.
This is his team and his success, brought to us by new men at the helm in the board room, new voices who you feel have laid down a few ground rules.
City supporters have bought into the brave new world - and it's brought success. Full houses every week, big away attendances and now a place in the second tier of English football to use as a carrot for any potential investors.
The celebrations haven't quite ended - Lambert and his men will march to the battlements of the Castle on Thursday to celebrate a great victory. Then the hard work begins all over again.