City boss Paul Lambert might have his sights firmly set on seeing off the season in style this Sunday, but back in Birmingham there is little by way of a party mood.
Aston Villa will arrive at Carrow Road for the final game of the season safe from relegation – unless a wholly freak set of results sends them down on goal difference.
And whilst Norwich manager, players and supporters alike will be busily celebrating a magnificent first season back in the top flight and saluting the 2012-13 Player of the Year, the visitors will continue with their bitter post-mortem – and, in particular, the future of boss Alex McLeish.
Not the most popular of appointments when he swapped one side of the city for another, the Scot has found the atmosphere turning poisonous at Villa Park of late.
End Sunday’s contest in a heap and the Villa faithful are likely to vent their anger in his direction after a season of distinct under-achievement.
Already the local Birmingham papers are speculating on McLeish’s successor; keeping that particular pot bubbling.
Lambert’s long-standing connections with ex-Villa boss Martin O’Neill and his own managerial achievements in Norfolk over the last three seasons keeps his name in lights as far as The Birmingham Mail are concerned.
Once again, they opted to quote Lambert at length on his desire to see the job through at Norwich – to ensure that this season’s achievements were just the start of turning the Canaries into an ‘established’ Premier League side; that they will prove to be more than ‘one season wonders’.
“I’ve had three unbelievable years at Norwich, really successful years, but we will always keep progressing, we have to,” Lambert ‘told’ the Mail.
“We will try everything we can to build it again for next season and keep pushing it on. I don’t look too far ahead, I have learnt that pretty quickly.”
It promises to be a nervy summer for Canary fans – particularly if McLeish’s tenure at Villa Park ends after Sunday.
In fairness, to the City chief he was making all the right noises about his plans for 2012-13 – even if they, once again, contained a heavy warning as to the level of finances likely to be at his disposal this summer.
The Carrow Road board were not about to hand their much-admired manager a blank cheque. He would be working to certain ceilings.
“I will try to strengthen as much as I possibly can for Norwich,” he said.
“I have done that every year and it’s important that the club doesn’t stand still and keeps on trying to stay in the league. The most important thing is to keep trying to stay in the league.”
Whether Villa’s owners would offer a Lambert a freer hand transfer-wise is, of course, the big question; that said, the Scot is canny enough to know he and his coaching team have built something very special at Carrow Road – that the grass is not always greener at a club like Villa where wages and transfer fees have not translated into points and performances.
As for Sunday’s game, Lambert will take a late check on defender Adam Drury, whose groin appears to be responding to treatment.
Marc Tierney, Daniel Ayala and Zak Whitbread all look set to make it as far as the final ‘lap of honour’ and won’t feature in the final game of the season through injury.
Villa’s clear-out is already underway with ex-England star Emile Heskey confirming that he will be away this summer; that this will be his last game in a Villa shirt.
Someone, somewhere will have a huge rebuilding job on their hands this summer. Canary fans the world over will be fervently hoping that McLeish is left to mastermind that particular task.
Leave a Reply