Norwich boss Dean Smith immediately set his sights on winning the Championship next season after the Canaries’ Premier League relegation was confirmed in defeat to his old club Aston Villa.
Goals from Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings – the latter cruelly set up by Norwich’s former player of the year Emi Buendia – gave the hosts a 2-0 win on Smith’s return to Villa Park, though by the time the second went in, Norwich were already heading down thanks to Burnley’s 2-1 win at Watford.
Though the relegation comes as little surprise, it was still a painful moment for Smith, who had never previously experienced the drop.
“Obviously I’m bitterly disappointed and I fully take my responsibility as well,” he said. “I think over the last four to five weeks there’s probably been an inevitability about it.
“I’m disappointed that we got relegated today because I thought our performance was good, but unfortunately over the season, the performances have not been good enough and we’ve lacked the quality required in this league…
“(The players) are very down, very dejected. I won’t know my own feeling on getting relegated until I’ve felt it over a few weeks but we have to reflect and move on very quickly now to planning to get back up.”
Smith will carry little blame for relegation, having taken over a side that took two points from their opening 10 league games and only won their first match a week before he arrived.
But Norwich will now hope the 51-year-old can do what he did for Villa and earn promotion.
The boyhood Villa fan was serenaded by all sides of Villa Park before and after the match as the home fans showed their gratitude for the job he did prior to his sacking in November.
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) April 30, 2022
There was also strong backing from the travelling support too, which Smith was keen to acknowledge.
“I’ve got an English ‘O’ level but I’ve had to go and look up the word apathy because there’s a lot of talk about that between our supporters and the football club and I don’t see that at all,” he said.
“We’re a one-club city and it’s imperative we stick together and learn our lessons and get ready for another tilt at in the Championship.
“The last two times we’ve been in the division we’ve won it and that’s what we look to now.”
Norwich had succeeded in frustrating Villa for long periods, but the breakthrough came four minutes before the break when Ings, just on to replace the injured Leon Bailey, launched the ball forward for Watkins, who left Brandon Williams on the floor before firing home.
News of the result from Vicarage Road had already filtered through before Buendia then created the space for Ings to finish things off in stoppage time.
“I’ve seen us play better and not get the right result,” Villa boss Steven Gerrard said. “I thought we played well in parts today and I’m really happy with the points and the clean sheet.
“I thought there were some really strong individual performances. John McGinn was outstanding, Danny when he came on and Ollie took his goal really well.
“It’s another clean sheet so there’s lots of positives but overall, we can play better.”
Gerrard said Villa Park’s support for Smith had come as no surprise to him and he backed Norwich to be promotion contenders next season.
“I’m disappointed for Norwich and Dean, he’s someone I’ve got the utmost respect for, but I think they’ve employed him for the big picture,” he said.
“It was always going to be a tough job, it was always going to be a massive mountain to climb to keep them up and I don’t doubt they’ll be one of the favourites to bounce back next year.”