Norwich City Football Club today formally paid the price of managing to score just 28 league goals in a season when a 2-0 defeat at home to Arsenal officially condemned them to relegation from the English Premier League.
Given the next club to offer such a paltry goal return plied their trade in the Northern Counties East League nine tiers lower, the prospect of City beating the Gunners by a 17-goal margin as West Brom lost was always the stuff of fairy tales.
Once Aaron Ramsey had fired Arsenal majestically ahead shortly into the second period and Carl Jenkinson had added a second, so it was always going to be a huge ask of the home side to pull something out of the final contest of the season.
And as the club begins a summer of deep soul searching as just how they might set out their financial stall again should they return to the top flight of English football, so all eyes will be on that strike department over the course of the next three months.
The cupboard is all but bear. And that’s before anyone starts to ponder where next for team skippers and Dutch Under-21 midfielders; for England World Cup keepers and a certain mercurial Dubliner who was nowhere to be seen today.
Whoever comes to take charge of the Canaries – be it Neil Adams or not – is going to have a long, hot summer trying to fashion something that works team-wise in time for the start of the new Championship campaign. It won’t be a job for the faint of heart.
For City’s farewell to the English Premier League, stand-in boss Adams couldn’t even find a place on the bench for the club’s record strike signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel – the hapless Dutchman was not about to add to his one goal haul this afternoon.
What the future held for RvW was anyone’s guess; the odds, however, on him making an appearance for the Norfolk club in the Championship next season must surely be slim. Belief – on either side of the fence – has long ago evaporated.
Nor did Adams elect to start Gary Hooper either. Instead he opted to throw Johan Elmander up top in the hope that his physical presence could unlock some time and space for England Under-21 star Nathan Redmond – one of the few players at his disposal to offer genuine Premiership pace against a Gunners side now guaranteed Champions League football next season.
Before their galaxy of international stars disappear to a World Cup summer in Brazil, Arsenal have the small matter of an FA Cup final appearance to look forward to against Hull. That, at least, might keep minds on the job as Norwich looked to avoid a humiliating final appearance in front of the long-suffering home faithful.
If they could at least build on last week’s spirited 0-0 draw at Chelsea, an element of pride might be restored in East Anglia.
There was, at least, one piece of good news for one player as Robert Snodgrass was awarded the Player of the Season award – scant consolation as his club heads south this summer, but due reward for the efforts of the Scottish international winger. He has given his all. Not something everyone could claim.
To their credit, Norwich started brightly enough and in Snodgrass and Redmond had two players willing to take the visitors on.
Russell Martin would break brightly from the back in the 11th minute only for his low cross to be cut out by the covering Tomas Rosicky; Redmond would sting the keeper’s hands with a smartly-struck from the left in the 18th minute as Norwich continued to give Carrow Road something to enjoy.
The game would also offer England boss Roy Hodgson something to ponder ahead of this week’s World Cup squad announcement as John Ruddy twice denied Olivier Giroud in the space of ten, first-half minutes as the Frenchman threatened to open the scoring for the visitors.
The game had, by then, lost what little sting it had had as both sides started to go through the motions ahead of the interval.
One eye on Wembley and the other on the World Cup, Arsenal’s stars were not going for the full follow through; Norwich’s interest in Premier League football was starting to wane as the beach loomed ever nearer.
Come the half-time whistle and the possession stats told a familiar story – the home side had enjoyed just 30% of the ball as Arsenal kept them at arm’s length and cruised along somewhere between second and third gear.
And, of course, Norwich had failed to score. Which was the story of their season in a nutshell.
Eight minutes after the restart and Ramsey’s influence on Arsenal’s ability to build on such acres of possession as they had enjoyed thus far was again evident as he drove the Londoner’s ahead. Giroud was the provider; holding the ball up before feeding the Welsh international midfielder with the kind of service he thrives on.
It prompted a double change from Adams – the most significant of which saw a Premier League debut for youngster Jamar Loza as the City youth chief turned to one of his young charges in the hope for a little final inspiration.
It all mattered little as Jenkinson doubled Arsenal’s advantage with a simple side-foot from the penalty spot as Norwich’s soft defensive centre was again revealed.
At least Elliott Bennett managed to get on the pitch again before the end of such a wretched season for him individually and the club in general. Bennett is a trier – and a talent.
Around just such players as Loza and Bennett will a new Norwich have to be built as the most sensibly run football club in the English Premier League… said good-bye to the English Premier League.