City boss Chris Hughton could afford something of a wry smile tonight as the Canaries brought the curtain down on their second season back in the English Premier League in a way that only they can – by winning a 3-2 thriller away at last season’s champions, Manchester City.
Managerless they might have been, but Norwich’s hosts were still the multi-million pound collection of world class stars that have swept all-but their nearest-neighbours aside this season.
But goals from Anthony Pilkington and – fittingly, given it could yet prove to be his last game in a Canary shirt – skipper Grant Holt kept asking questions of their hosts, before Jonny Howson provided a fabulous, solo effort to seal a famous victory for the Norfolk side.
It left Norwich 11th in the final table – according to certain calculations some £7.75 million better off in terms of positional prize money than bottom of the table QPR.
More pointedly given the unfavourable comparisons that have been drawn all season in certain quarters, it found City finishing the full, 38-game season one place better off than they finished last season under Paul Lambert’s charge.
And as far as the history books will ever show, that will be the story of this season – that the new man came in, steadied the ship and continued the work of his predecessor in terms of establishing Norwich City Football Club as a solid, mid-table Premiership side.
One win better than a Newcastle, a Sunderland and an Aston Villa – and a whole heap better off financially.
They will enter this summer as financially comfortable as they have ever been in their 111-year history. Beholden to no-one but – one would like to think – the dreams of their supporters.
“Would we have liked to have made the end of the season more comfortable for ourselves? Most certainly we would have done,” said Hughton afterwards.
Given the level of flak he, personally, has taken in what has been a God-awful early spring entertainment, if not results-wise, the Canary chief could be forgiven for deploying the royal ‘we’ in this instance.
He is, you suspect, too courteous a man to enjoy a last laugh in public. In private, however, he ought to feel thoroughly vindicated; ‘second season syndrome’ safely negotiated – and all on the tightest of playing budgets.
“It is about the last game – and where you finish after the last game in this Barclays Premier League,” he added, as Sunderland found themselves with the ‘honour’ of finishing one place above the relegation zone. Wigan bowed out with 2-2 draw with Lambert’s Villa.
“We’ve had some good spells this season,” Hughton reflected. “We hit very good form just before Christmas and have had a difficult time since. But we have certainly played well in the last few games.
“And I had a very tough act to follow – the club had been incredibly successful in that period of time. But we have a group of lads that are very resilient and have picked themselves up every time we have been through a bad phase.
“We have finished the season really well and now it is about the summer – and what we are able to do in the summer.”
Four goals against West Bromwich Albion; three against last year’s champions – the critics would suggest that neither were pedal-to-the-metal, but then that’s the way the fixture calendar can work at this stage of the season.
Everyone plays each other twice – and it is some achievement to come away from a Premier League season having beaten both Manchester clubs.
Interestingly, Hughton’s language was one of ‘development’ when quizzed about his future plans; the Class of 2013-2014 will be far more in his own image than that of his predecessor. A certain Dutch international striker might just be the start of a summer of quiet revolution.
“We have a good side that has served the club very well this season – and we shall not forget that,” he told the BBC.
“But if we’re able to strengthen the squad then we will endeavour to do that. We know how difficult it is – us and 19 other clubs are trying to do the same.
“But it is our responsibility to the club and to the supporters to try and keep improving.”
And whether that ‘development’ process includes the exit of one G Holt this summer, only time will tell.
But next season will be the squad and the team that Hughton built, not inherited. That will be his Judgement Day.