Norwich City this afternoon guaranteed their place in the Land of Ever More Milk and Honey for another season with a compelling and comprehensive 4-0 win over a largely disinterested West Bromwich Albion.
Goals from Robert Snodgrass, Grant Holt, an og from ex-Town favourite Gareth McAuley and a 90th minute effort from Jonny Howson delivered the goods when it really, really mattered and the Norfolk side can now travel to Manchester City next weekend with few cares in the world.
Not so Fulham, Aston Villa, Wigan, Southampton and Sunderland for whom the Championship bell could still toll depending on which way Fortune’s cookie crumbles next weekend.
Should Wigan win their game in hand and convert that FA Cup winning feeling into three more points before showdown Sunday, alarm bells will be ringing in at least three corners of the land. Just not in the East.
It has been a testing spring for all concerned; the club even cancelling the traditional End of Season Dinner to ensure that minds remained wholly focussed on the job in hand.
And given the flak that has been fired Chris Hughton’s way of late as City made such hard work of securing their survival, it is slightly ironic to note that this evening Norwich sit in 12th place in the English Premier League – exactly the same position that they finished last season under Paul Lambert’s charge.
Depending on how you view the world, they are as good as – or as poor as – anyone else in the bottom half of the top flight.
And while few would be expecting too much out of the Etihad, four goals makes a significant difference to City’s goal advantage; they won’t much shy of 13th or 14th when the final scores on the doors are taken.
It was Robert Snodgrass who led the charge towards the finishing line with a 25th minute opener that was a rightful reward for his afternoon’s contributions.
It also calmed many a frayed nerve as all concerned knew what a tight-rope the Canaries walked; putting themselves in the driving seat early on was crucial to the way the game would unfold thereafter. In fairness to those at work with the City dressing room, Norwich were bright, up-beat and ‘on it’ from the opening whistle.
As for the goal, not for the last time Baggies keeper Ben Foster didn’t cover himself with too much glory as he was caught in half a dozen minds and ended up pushing the ball out to the lurking City winger as Wes Hoolahan challenged.
As much as it was an easy enough chance, given what was riding on it Snodgrass showed commendable cool in driving the ball high and handsome into an unguarded net.
As ever, City didn’t initially make anyone’s life any easier in the early exchanges of the second period as big chances came and went; chances to put the game, the contest and the season to bed once and for all.
Anthony Pilkington shanked at a decent volleyed effort; Snodgrass failed to make the most of a three-on-two following a big, flick-on from skipper Holt.
On the hour mark, the three-time Player of the Season almost got on the end of an inviting Snodgrass cross; two minutes later, however, and Holt’s biggest wish was granted as he all-but sealed Norwich’s Premiership future with the game’s decisive second goal.
Foster was the one bearing, £60 million gifts as a horrible mis-kick on the edge of his own box enabled Holt to walk in goal No8 for potentially a farewell season. In every likelihood, he will finish a fourth season as Norwich’s leading goal-scorer; one ahead of Snodgrass with that trip to Manchester still to come.
The party button was well and truly pushed on the 65th minute when ex-Town star Gareth McAuley rose above Ryan Bennett to thump a fine, downward header into his own goal. That was that; job done.
For once Norwich had got their noses in front and then killed the contest within the space of three minutes. Before the end, Howson grabbed a fourth into the top corner.
By then, however, it was long a case of job done. Game over. Season, finally, sorted.
Norwich were home and hosed. With a game to spare.