Norwich got their excuses in first: Chris Hughton in his programme notes, in which he bemoaned the paucity of his transfer budget; Grant Holt in a Sunday newspaper, in which he blamed Hughton’s tactics for his own lack of goals. In the end, though, all was forgiven as a comically poor West Bromwich Albion allowed the Canaries to sing in tune for the first time in a long time.
Their biggest top-flight win for 20 years banishes the threat of relegation – they are certain now to finish ahead of either Wigan or Aston Villa, who meet on the final day – but does not obscure how close they were to unravelling completely. As high as seventh in the Premier League in mid-December, they have won only three times since.
“I cannot just run around like a lunatic,” Holt reportedly said, having spent much of his season, when selected, as Hughton’s only out-and-out striker. “The gaffer has been more defensive-minded and something had to give.”
Even with Sunday’s riches taken into account, only Queen’s Park Rangers and Stoke City have scored fewer goals than Norwich. Holt’s goal tally of seven for the season is less than half his score from last year.
In the event, he could sign off his home account with a sardonic smile after Ben Foster and Jonas Olsson conspired haplessly to hand him probably the easiest goal of the year, the goalkeeper miskicking an attempted clearance as the defender ran across him. Holt picked up the loose ball and was able to walk it into the empty net.
Two minutes later, Albion handed Norwich a third goal, Gareth McAuley obliging where Ryan Bennett narrowly failed by heading Robert Snodgrass’s free-kick into his own net.
McAuley, extraordinarily, has scored four own goals in Norwich’s favour, including one as an Ipswich player and two in the same season playing for Leicester.
“We were really poor,” Steve Clarke, Albion’s head coach, admitted. Clarke said he did not expect Peter Odemwingie, who invited the usual derision when he stepped off the bench for the last 10 minutes, to be an Albion player next season.
The first and last goals were at least of superior quality. Robert Snodgrass fired in at an angle into the roof of the net after Foster had repelled a Wes Hoolahan challenge to give Norwich the relief of a 25th-minute opening goal. In the 90th minute, bringing the full ex-Leeds contingent to the party, Jonny Howson, played a one-two with substitute Luciano Becchio, and curled a delicious shot beyond Foster from 18 yards.
“I’m incredibly relieved,” Hughton said afterwards. “It has been a tough season and since Christmas especially we have found it hard to find a formula to win football matches. But when it mattered we have come up with arguably our best performance of the season.”
Holt, he said, deserved the ovation he was granted when he was substituted four minutes from time. “He will be disappointed that he has not got so many goals but he has played a different role this season and I accept it has been tough for him.”