Canary skipper Grant Holt celebrated his third successive Player of the Season title this afternoon in the best possible manner by delivering his 17th goal of the season to help Norwich to an all-too easy 2-0 win over a poor Aston Villa side.
Whilst the highest of last-gasp dramas might have been elsewhere on the final day of this particular Premier League season, it was still an emotional day at Carrow Road as the 31-year-old Holt lifted the famous old Barry Butler Memorial Trophy for another season – his place in the Canary Hall of Fame long assured after bagging his 70th goal of his City career as became the first-ever Norwich player to win the award on three occasions.
Keeper John Ruddy would, quite rightly, finish second in the supporters’ poll; David Fox grabbed third on a day rich in smiles and deep satisfaction as the Norfolk side finally finished 12th on goal difference – an extraordinary achievement coming on the back of those two, back-to-back promotion years.
Little wonder that boss Paul Lambert is a man in such demand this summer as he reflected afterwards on a job so well done. He was, however, notable by his absence in the traditional lap of honour that followed the Player of the Season ceremony.
Quizzed directly as to whether he would be here next season, the Canary chief paused for thought – before keeping all his options open.
“That’s a hard one to answer,” he said simply. “I’ve got a contract here and everyone’s doing great in their own respective jobs, but I’ll see what happens and think about what’s going on and what the team has done. And then wait and see.”
None of which was the kind of emphatic: ‘See you all in August!’ retort the Canary faithful might have hoped for. It could yet prove a long, hot summer at Carrow Road.
Adam Drury’s Testimonial Game against his former employers Celtic was the next big date in his diary; only after that would he pause for breath and thought after steering his charges to such safe heights in his first season in the top flight.
“You can never stop people speculating about you or your team,” he added, with the world and his wife likely to do just that should the Villa board not stand by their current man this week.
Speaking afterwards, Alex McLeish remained confident that he would emerge unscathed from a scheduled meeting with owner and chief executive. The game was but a minute old before that very theme surfaced.
“One Paul Lambert, only one Paul Lambert…’ sang the home faithful; a refrain immediately taken up by the 2,200 visiting Villa fans. They, clearly, have the Canary chief on their summer wish-list as McLeish’s long-term tenure at Villa Park continues to be the subject of much debate.
As, of course, has Holt’s international quality with regard to the forthcoming Euro2012 tournament.
It took the one-time Unibond tyre-fitter less than ten minutes to deliver yet another big reminder to new England chief Roy Hodgson with his 17th goal of the season – a five-yard shoulder home off a superb, far post free-kick delivery off Bradley Johnson.
Moments later and Johnny Howson would have Shay Given at full stretch with a delicate, 25-yard curler as the Norfolk side began to thoroughly enjoy their afternoon. Given would have to repeat the feat in the 19th minute as Simon Lappin curled one at his near post.
Jackson doubled Norwich’s lead in the 22nd minute as Holt pressured Carlos Cuellar into heading back across the face of his own goal where the lurking Canadian easily tucked home his fifth goal of the season as Villa looked the kind of shambles that does, indeed, sack their manager in the morning.
The one time Villa did a string a move, of sorts, together and John Ruddy calmly pushed Eric Lichaj’s shot wide. His reactions remained undimmed as he proved in the five minutes after the re-start when denying first Emile Heskey and then Stephen Ireland as Villa, finally, showed signs of life.
Given, however, would produce the save of the afternoon in the 63rd minute when he diverted a wicked Jackson dipper wide for a corner with an out-stretched right hand.
Holt – like Jackson – would leave to a standing ovation in the 67th minute; ‘England’s No9, No9!’ ringing in his ears. That decision would be Hodgson’s to make over the next 48 hours, but in fairness to the City skipper few could have asked anything more of him over the last 38 games.
Likewise Ruddy. He would flick an effort from Gabriel Agbonlahor onto the base of his left upright as the game drifted towards its conclusion; the high drama to be found elsewhere.
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