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May 7, 2014

Norwich City finally put out of their Premier League misery

Norwich City’s Premier League suffering may be over, but the path ahead is fraught with danger.

The Canaries were effectively relegated on Wednesday night after Sunderland sealed their own remarkable survival with a 2-0 win over West Brom. City sit three points behind fourth-from-bottom Albion but with a vastly inferior goal difference (+19) ahead of this weekend’s finale.

In truth, Norwich looked a club in distress for much of 2014, long before Chris Hughton became the first casualty and Neil Adams was beckoned from the academy to try to engineer a revival that proved beyond him and his underachieving squad.

City performed with bravery and courage at Chelsea on Sunday to earn a point with a 0-0 draw, but the first of Adams’ brief reign was merely the epitaph rather than a signal for revival. Norwich deserve to go down, and there will be few who could disagree.

Hughton and Norwich’s board embarked on a club-record transfer outlay last summer designed to alleviate the stresses inherent in the annual fight for survival. The Canaries expected more than another campaign of incremental gains and constant worries about their Premier League status. What they got was plenty of the same, and the type of downward spiral that eventually sucked them below the surface and jettisoned them to the Championship.

Norwich have endured this brutal pain before. When they lost their top-flight status in 2005 it took six years and two promotions to return. They flirted with administration as they tumbled into the third tier for the first time in five decades. The Canaries are undoubtedly in a healthier financial situation to launch a fightback, but first they must endure a summer of upheaval.

City’s better players will have no desire to operate in the less fashionable surroundings of the Football League. Professionals have short careers and only an abbreviated period to maximize their full earning potential. Norwich bought the likes of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer to operate in more glamorous arenas; John Ruddy and Robert Snodgrass have maintained their reputations as consistent top-flight performers in a lost cause.

A contraction in Norwich's revenue streams will necessitate a realignment. A board who earned plaudits for their astute fiscal management on the steep ascent will have to grasp a new, rather less comfortable reality. But before all of that they must decide whether Adams is the man to lead them or whether they seek an experienced, battle-hardened alternative.

Time is of the essence now. The clock is already ticking to the start of the Championship season on Aug. 9. Norwich must learn from their mistakes and move on. A prolonged hangover will only increase the severity of plotting an arduous passage through a division populated by clubs who feel they have the pedigree and the history to emulate the Canaries’ recent achievements. City will be viewed as a prized scalp; nowhere more so than across the border by bitter East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town.

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