To win 2-0 against the champions elect without getting a shot on target is about as ‘Norwich City’ you can get.
Throw into the mix the fact that Brighton fans felt more inclined to roast Alex Pritchard than celebrate their own promotion and it all added up to a funny ol’ evening at the the Carra. While most expected Pritchard’s M25 U -turn to be a sideshow, few expected it to be the main event. It was fun though.
Yet it seems I missed a trick by not wallowing in the schadenfreude of David Stockdale’s double-mishap (less half a season on loan down south isn’t sufficient to trigger my ire-ometer) although there’s no denying the oddity of seeing the ball cannon in via woodwork and keeper twice in the space of 21 minutes in virtually identical circumstances.
That Pritchard was denied a brace and the chance of a hat-trick was a shame, but by the letter of the footballing laws were it not for Stockdale’s interventions it would have stayed 0-0, so there’s unfortunately no debate to be had.
But there was no taking away from Pritchard’s impact on proceedings and thanks to the cacophony of noise that accompanied his every flick, trick and dropped-shoulder his evening’s work was played out under the brightest of spotlights.
Back in October on that horrible afternoon at the Amex, Pritchard shrunk and cowed under a blanket of spite and venom. Last night was different.
He confirmed afterwards that painful 5-0 drubbing was central to the pre-match chat and while the Seagulls are destined to have the last laugh this season there remained an element of City ‘owing them one’. And, more importantly, the players owed themselves a performance that would at least deaden some memories of the season’s darkest hour.
On that scored they delivered.
For us, any joyed derived from this end-of-season tour is naturally of the scant consolation variety and it was impossible not to experience a tinge of envy when faced with the barrage of balloons, flags and scarves that accompany promotion to the Promised Land.
And, despite their odd take on the events of the evening, there’s no doubting the worthiness of Brighton’s promotion given their journey that so nearly came to a juddering halt at the Withdean.
They’ll go up at champions and fair do’s. And the same to Chris Hughton who, despite his less than glorious second season at Carrow Road, has proved again he’s a very decent second tier manager.
My only advice to Brighton fans (in the very unlikely event they’d seek it) would be to drink it all in and extract every last ounce of joy out of the time between now and the start of next season. That’s all.
For City’s part it’s impossible to ignore the ‘too little too late’ that understandably accompanies every point gained now the play-offs have drifted off into the distance but equally there is still a professional job to be done as the season winds down and they’re actually fulfilling task that rather well.
Last night’s performance level was thoroughly decent almost across the board and it would certainly be remiss not to mention an almost water-tight display from a back-four that had Russell Martin and Ryan Bennett at its heart. Neither are likely to figure next season, at least not in a regular basis, but credit where it’s due and both delivered an 8/10 last night; the latter arguably having one of his best outings in the yellow shirt.
John Ruddy too, while not over-worked, has from somewhere rediscovered a performance level and air of authority that I’d assumed had disappeared for ever and perhaps I need to reconsider my ‘needs a fresh challenge’ waffle of a few weeks ago. He’s offering food for thought for those, like me, who’d earmarked the keeper department for a complete overhaul.
But it’s not what we think that counts. Right now Stuart Webber is judge, jury and executioner – and will remain so until a new head coach is appointed – and by all accounts he’s not messing about.
Talk of only “12 to 15” of the existing squad avoiding the assassin’s bullet will make for an uneasy dressing room and may well partly account for an element of bite and hunger that’s belatedly reappeared in City’s armoury. In terms of this season however it makes for an edge to the final two games that would otherwise have already been halfway to the beach.
City made a more than decent fist of delaying Brighton’s Championship winning celebrations last night; let’s hope for reasons too numerous to list they can do something rather more permanent to Leeds’ play-off aspirations.
Now that would really be fun.
For those who are unaware, our own Stewart Lewis was granted interviews with the aforementioned Mr Webber and also the club’s managing director, Steve Stone at this week’s Norwich City Fans Social Club event, both of which will be adorning the MyFootballWriter pages in the next week or so.
Stew informs me they’re both enlightening and free of the usual platitudes, so watch this space…