Photo Gallery: Sunday best from stylish Norwich City
Norwich City 2, Aston Villa 0: There was a pleasing sense of d�j� vu about the post-match celebrations as Norwich City wrapped up another memorable campaign in style at Carrow Road.
In fact, the performance against Aston Villa in the Canaries’ final Premier League game of 2011-12 yesterday had moved up a couple of gears from the displays against Carlisle and Coventry that preceded the two previous end-of-season parades of silverware.
As the players gathered for their annual lap of honour, there may have been many among another 26,000-plus sell-out crowd who wondered how many more such occasions they will enjoy with manager Paul Lambert leading the speeches, but just for now they can savour the moment.
Three years ago, in the wake of the Unpleasant Valley Sunday that condemned City to League One, any fan who suggested their team would be sitting in 12th place in the Premier League three summers later might have been dragged away by the men in white coats – or perhaps bright orange jackets.
It was about as likely as a dancing dog winning a TV talent show, or Prince Charles presenting the weather.
And while the manager often reminds us that nothing in football surprises him any more, City fans can be forgiven for pinching themselves each time he and his team raise the bar an extra few notches.
Of course, both sides knew they were safe from any nasty last-day surprises, but there was no question that the Canaries were more interested in signing off with a flourish than their jaded-looking visitors. Consequently, they finished on a winning note for the first time since 2004.
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First-half goals by top scorer and player of the season Grant Holt and the irrepressible Simeon Jackson decided the contest, but in truth it could have been almost a cricket score but for the efforts of Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, the one man on the Villa side to earn his money with a string of excellent saves.
Holt had, somewhat harshly, already been shown his seventh yellow card of the season when he struck first after nine minutes.
James Collins fouled Jackson and from Bradley Johnson’s free-kick, Holt arrived at the far post to knock the ball home off his chest. It was his 17th goal of the season and his 70th goal for the club in just three seasons.
It was almost 2-0 when Jonny Howson sent in a curling shot from 20 yards that Given saved acrobatically, leaping to his left. Then Simon Lappin was close to his first goal since 2007, sending in a free-kick from a similar distance that Given again saved.
The ’keeper had little chance midway through the half, however, when Jackson scored his fifth goal of the season.
Carlos Cuellar, making his last appearance for Villa, tried to head the ball back towards Given from Ryan Bennett’s long ball forward, but it went straight to Jackson, and though his initial touch was parried by Given, the Canadian made no mistake from the rebound.
By this stage, Villa fans were calling for manager Alex McLeish to be sacked and joining in their own chorus of “There’s only one Paul Lambert” – an indication of their preferred replacement.
Given had to save twice more before the break, from Elliott Bennett and Wes Hoolahan, as City’s midfield quartet ran the show.
The only time opposite number John Ruddy was forced into action was through a rare run and stinging shot from Villa full-back Eric Lichaj, but City reached the interval well in control.
Their dominance was threatened only briefly five minutes after the interval, when Ruddy was forced to save three times in quick succession, twice from Stephen Ireland and once from Emile Heskey, another man reaching the end of his claret and blue period.
But City swiftly reasserted their authority and after Wes Hoolahan attempted a volley that sailed past the angle of post and bar, even the defenders started to join in the goal quest.
Kyle Naughton tested Given, Russell Martin was just off target from a corner, and Ryan Bennett’s header from a Holt cross was saved by the ’keeper. In another great move, Hoolahan set up Jackson for a stinging shot that Given saved superbly, diving to his right.
Villa almost snatched a goal back when Ruddy did brilliantly to turn Gabriel Agbonlahor’s shot on to the inside of the post, Russell Martin sliding in to clear the rebound.
Aaron Wilbraham, given a late run-out with Steve Morison, fired just over as he went in search of his first Carrow Road goal for the Canaries.
But by now, the yellow army were getting impatient for their annual parade, and Villa fans – exhausted from taunting their manager – swiftly departed to leave the hosts to their fun.