City boss Paul Lambert had just one gripe with today’s joyous events at Carrow Road – the choice of Player of the Year.
“I’d have given it to the team – seriously,” said the Canary boss, fresh from the kind of heart-felt celebrations that, usually, engulf a Carrow Road only once in a generation.
These are, however, wholly unusual times after this afternoon’s 2-2 draw with Coventry City was rendered all-but irrelevant by last Monday’s events at Fratton Park when Simeon Jackson’s lone goal booked Norwich’s place back in the top flight of English football.
Which then rendered today’s final game of the season all-but irrelevant – City only needing the 45 games to secure back-to-back promotions, not the full 46.
Last season’s League One title triumph arrived on the back of Grant Holt’s 30 goals; enough to earn the one-time tyre-fitter the Player of the Season award for 2009-2010.
This afternoon and his 23rd goal of another extraordinary season ensured that the Canaries finished the season four points clear of Swansea City in third – the perfect way for the 30-year-old Holt to celebrate his own double, having lifted the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy for the second, successive season just an hour earlier.
With a third child due before the end of the month, the Canary skipper can at least now concentrate on welcoming the latest addition to his young family rather than worrying about the lottery that is the play-offs.
“Grant Holt has been sensational in the two years that I have been manager,” added Lambert. “But I would have given that Player of the Season award to the team – I really would.”
Buying in to the whole ‘team ethic’ is going to be a crucial requirement for the ‘helping hands’ Lambert will look to recruit over the summer.
A first meeting with the board and chief executive David McNally laid out some of the parameters he will work to yesterday.
The latest figure to be offered as the value of one season in the Premiership is £89 million. For a club a ‘mere’ £22.9 million in debt – according to the end of year accounts to May 31, 2009 – that ought to put the smile on the face of the bank manager and, likewise, still give the canny Scot room to play with in the transfer market.
A shrewd use of the Premiership loan market will be one avenue to explore. Today and two of the stand-out players – both during the latter stages of the contest and, in particular, in the lengthy celebrations that followed – were Henri Lansbury and Dani Pacheco.
Both lapped up the applause; Pacheco marking his impending return to Liverpool by throwing both City shirt and red boots into the Barclay End – and all after signing off with a fine finish from a typically, individual goal.
“The biggest compliment I can pay to Henri and Dani is the fact that you wouldn’t know that they were loan players,” said Lambert, well aware that he will need to unearth similar ‘team players’ next term if that work ethic is to survive the clash of the titans that awaits.
Teams of the ilk of a Chelsea or a Manchester United operated on a ‘different stratosphere’ to the likes of a Norwich, he conceded.
For now, however, he was happy enough to soak up the moment; bask in the knowledge that he joins a very select group of managers that have ever masterminded back-to-back promotion campaigns en route to the English Premier League.
“We’ll enjoy ourselves tonight and again tomorrow night at the end of season dinner – that will be a special occasion. But after that we go again,” he said.
Quizzed as to whether he – individually – ever thought he would see such times after his own managerial career started with a rather inglorious spell at Livingston, Lambert revealed both the natural wit and determination that has made him one of the hottest properties in management.
“In football, you get more knocks than a front-door,” he said. “But you pick yourself up and go again. You never go up. And I wouldn’t change a thing. From that experience at Livingston, to Wycombe and getting them to the semi-final of the Carling Cup and then just missing out on the play-offs.
“And then to Colchester; they were bottom when we got there… and then on to this. And all that has happened here in the last two years. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The relationship between manager and Canary fan is as close and as special as any in the club’s 109-year history; Lambert was at pains to take to the micro-phone straight after the game to thank the fans himself before the ‘formal’ celebrations began in earnest.
Even then, he was to be found orchestrating the applause in front of the Barclay and Snake Pit as the players, one by one, were given their own, individual chorus of approval by the gleeful Canary faithful.
It is a relationship that is likely to extend way into next season and even beyond. Lambert knows he has something very special going on in this corner of the land; something that a Bolton, a Blackburn or a Burnley would struggle to ever match.
When he goes, it will be because he has the biggest of fish to fry. Tonight he and his players will simply revel in being the kings of this hill; tomorrow new challenges will await.
In Lambert we trust.