Premier League Season Review – Norwich City

Norwich City: 19th (relegated)

FA Cup: Round Three

Capital One Cup: Round Four

Norwich are quickly earning a status as the new yo-yo team of the top two divisions in English football. After suffering relegation in 2014 they made an instant return to the Premier League through the play-offs, but a further year later they are left to reflect on another failure to make their mark on the top table after failing to win their lengthy battle against the drop.

Manager Alex Neil entered the season with a terrific standing among supporters after leading the club to a dramatic upturn in results which had led to their eventual success over Middlesbrough at Wembley, but there were surprisingly few additions to the squad over a summer where they were really expected to strengthen in order to bridge that gap between themselves and Premier League consolidation.

The main addition was Robbie Brady, who quickly became a key player on the left side, while two loan signings arrived in the shape of Liverpool defender Andre Wisdom and powerful striker Dieumerci Mbokani. Otherwise Neil kept faith with the existing squad and they got off to a reasonable start, picking up convincing wins over Sunderland and Bournemouth in the early weeks and only being denied victory late on at West Ham United.

But October is where they began to lose their way as four matches were lost in succession, including a 6-2 thumping at struggling Newcastle United. It did not get much easier in the following weeks as the defensive vulnerabilities were becoming increasingly exposed, while the strikers found goals difficult to come by all season as Neil rotated between Mbokani, Cameron Jerome and latterly Lewis Grabban with limited success.

The festive period was kind to Norwich as they won three out of four, beginning with a notable success at Manchester United. Priceless triumphs over Aston Villa and Southampton followed, indicating that they might yet steer clear of relegation danger, and optimism was enhanced further by the signing of Steven Naismith from Everton; a player who would surely breathe new life and energy into his attacking play.

By the time the Scot made his debut the Canaries were back on the slide after suffering comprehensive away defeats to Stoke City and Bournemouth, but he made an instant impact against Liverpool by giving them a 2-1 lead in the first half. Sadly, that would be the game that would define their season as they led 3-1 before going 4-3 behind. Even after levelling it at 4-4 deep into stoppage time they still contrived to lose it, leaving Neil stony faced and left to criticise the mentality and generosity of his team.

That was a severe psychological blow which took a number of weeks to recover from, by which time their Premier League status was under considerable doubt. It was part of a demoralising run of eight defeats in nine, many of which saw them crumble in the aftermath of conceding a goal, a situation not helped by the lack of cutting edge at the other end of the field.

There was finally hope again in the middle of March as a gritty performance saw them claim a narrow victory at West Bromwich Albion, a result that acted as a timely boost ahead of the showdown with Newcastle United, who along with Sunderland were one of the two sides they were battling against in order to avoid joining Aston Villa in being demoted to the Championship.

It was a dramatic game and another one which they threatened to throw away, only to win it in the dying seconds through Martin Olsson’s heroic intervention. It gave them the edge in the race to survive, but it was an advantage they could not keep for long as they lost at Crystal Palace before coming up against Sunderland at Carrow Road. This time they were unable to handle the occasion, and so fell to a draining 3-0 loss.

It was clear now that survival would be a tall order and despite positive displays against Arsenal and Manchester United they lost both, meaning that victory for Sunderland against Everton on May 11 would condemn them to relegation regardless of how they fared at home to Watford. A 4-2 victory for Norwich would have been celebrated on any other night, but Sunderland got the job done to leave the admirable Neil to rue some of the decisions he made over the course of the season.

Looking ahead, not a great amount is likely to change over the summer as Neil prepares to lead the assault towards what they hope will be another promotion. This current squad has proven that they can conquer the Championship, so expect them to be up there challenging again.

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