So there we have it.
After months of hoping, believing, willing and praying it’s finally staring us in the face. We’ve had ample time to prepare ourselves yet now the time’s almost arrived the pain is still real and raw.
And to top it all Jonny Howson is out for the final two games and our chief executive has been at the centre of a Twitter storm. The antithesis of one of those Carlsberg ads.
While relegation is yet to be officially confirmed, anyone who witnessed Everton’s lamest of lame surrenders at Leicester’s title celebrations will be in little doubt that the Toffees will be mere lambs to the slaughter in the Stadium of Light on Wednesday evening.
Allardyce will be all smiles; the Mackems will be whooping; it’ll be horrible… and painful.
Meanwhile we’ll probably huff and puff against the Hornets, miss a chance or two, drop a clanger in our defensive third and concede a second-half ricochet that will fly in off Deeney’s backside.
Cyncial? Maybe, but having suffered a run-in where the goals have completely dried up and where decent defending gets continually undone by at least one cock-up per game it’s a little challenging not to be.
And we watch as Leicester City – a club always deemed to be of a similar size and history to our own – celebrate the greatest season in their history while we slide ignominiously to the second tier.
There are evidently to be none of the ‘twists’ that we have been promised. Just four defeats on the bounce during which we have not scored a single goal. In a second-half yesterday, while ‘fighting for their lives’, David de Gea (unless I’d dozed off) didn’t have a single shot to save.
Yet, I refuse to believe those who still accuse the players of lacking effort. They are committed and they do care but they continually come up short because collectively and individually they are not good enough.
Yesterday’s and last Saturday’s starting XI contained eight of those who started at Wembley. A fit Alex Tettey would have made it nine. While a crude barometer, that tells us we haven’t progressed at a rate necessary to compete at the elite level. In fact it doesn’t just tell us, it booms it, very loudly, through those speakers used at Metallica concerts.
In the adrenalin-fuelled aftermath of Wembley we (well me actually) bullishly proclaimed the squad as one that could compete in the Premier League but in reality some fairly major surgery was needed. Not just to the back-four – although that was priority number one – but throughout.
Of course as we now know, the surgery wasn’t even minor. It was more of a sticking plaster.
How and why we ended up with a squad that wasn’t fit for purpose is the big question and one that’s flooded social media since 2:45 yesterday afternoon. The recriminations have been flying thick and fast with the loudest voices hurling abuse – some of it way below the belt – at the board, Alex Neil and, most notably, David McNally.
The precise detail of what went wrong last summer is only know by a few but it seems bids, costly ones, were lodged for a number of players, but most – if not all – didn’t come to fruition.
There’s of course nothing to say that if they had been successful in getting their men they would have been successes on the pitch – God knows we’ve learnt that the hard way – but it’d have meant the board would have delivered as requested. That they didn’t – for whatever reason – now leaves them wholly exposed and, yes, accountable.
(That still doesn’t excuse those who fire bile at McNally and co – some of whom should know better – however broad his shoulders are supposed to be).
But something did go wrong off the pitch and in terms of recruitment, with the exception of the signing of Timm Klose, it has verged on disastrous. And at a time when in order to survive that difficult first season back it needed to be good. Better still excellent.
Instead, a squad that had ‘Championship’ written all over it still has ‘Championship’ written all over it even though it’s been trying, and invariably failing, to compete against the best in the English game. From the outside looking in there must have been an inevitability to it.
Finances dictate of course, and three teams have to go down, but we were promised that lessons had been learned and every sinew would be strained to survive. Yet here we are.
To enter last summer’s transfer window minus a robust plan was not only a recipe for disaster, it also suggests that actually there was at least one lesson swilling around that hadn’t been properly addressed. To appoint the head of recruitment from Burnley, where the biggest problem had been poor recruitment, simply didn’t cut it.
Those who call for McNally’s head ignore that during his tenure the club has transformed from one near the brink to one that’s now debt-free, in which time promotions still outnumber relegations, but he does have questions to answer (especially now), as do Team Neil and the board.
Throw the surprise departure of Alan Bowkett into the mix and something smells a little off. And before issues on the green stuff can be properly addressed, so too does any division off it. A lack of reliable leadership on the pitch has been a recurring theme; for this to be replicated in the boardroom offers nothing but a sinking feeling.
Let’s hope the latter is addressed quickly and decisively, so a post-mortem on the former can get under way.
But, when all said and done, this is football. Teams get relegated. Some bounce back. Some get relegated again. And, through it all, Norwich City will still remain and we’ll all still be there.
When the inevitable is confirmed this will be the eighth relegation I’ve witnessed first-hand and they don’t get any easier to stomach. But equally, once the furore has died down and the recriminations have run their course it’ll be a case of counting the days until season 2016/17 begins.
Because that’s what we do. And perhaps that part of the problem.