Would Daniel Farke do it differently if he was allowed another go? Norwich’s manager has stuck to his principles all season, trusting in the players who won promotion last year and insisting on an expansive style, but it is not hard to feel that a touch more pragmatism would not have gone amiss in a scrap for survival. Weaknesses are ruthlessly exposed at this level and Norwich’s inability to cover up their flaws has been their undoing, dragging them back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
The defeat that sealed Norwich’s relegation summed them up. They defended abysmally, conceded soft goals from set pieces and lacked conviction in the final third. Drained of belief and attacking zest, Norwich simply rolled over and allowed West Ham to do as they pleased. Farke’s lightweight side looked broken and beaten throughout and succeeded only in delivering a masterclass in how not to handle Michail Antonio, whose four goals helped West Ham take a big step towards preserving their Premier League status with their first away win in nine matches.
It is not easy to read much into a victory over a team as lightweight as Norwich. Nonetheless this was a day to cherish for Antonio, who has six goals in four games after scoring his first hat-trick for West Ham. It was a robust display from David Moyes’s side, who lie six points clear of the bottom three with three matches left, having played a game more than 18th-placed Bournemouth.
There was a doomed air about Norwich from the start. They were a team going through the motions, resigned to their fate and incapable of winning the physical duels, and West Ham did not have to strain to dominate. The visitors were stronger in the tackle and dangerous in the final third, threatening as early as the first minute when Jarrod Bowen saw an appeal for a penalty waved away.
A straightforward change from Moyes lifted West Ham after their insipid defeat to Burnley last Wednesday, the omission of Andriy Yarmolenko for Mark Noble giving the side more balance. Noble worked diligently with Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek to take control of midfield, Bowen was far more menacing after returning to his favoured spot on the right flank and Norwich could not cope. Farke’s players struggled to hold on to possession whenever they were pressed and they creaked at the back, escaping when Soucek clipped wide after fine work from Antonio on the left.
Feeble defensively, Norwich could not cope with the power and speed of Antonio. West Ham’s lone forward rattled his markers, Ben Godfrey and Timm Klose, and he had forced a save from Tim Krul before giving the visitors an early lead, meeting Issa Diop’s near-post flick from Bowen’s corner with an emphatic volley from close range. Needless to say, the marking was nonexistent.
Behind after 11 minutes, Norwich could have been forgiven for walking down the tunnel there and then. They are the only team in Europe’s top five leagues not to have claimed a point after conceding first this season and Farke’s players just looked a little sad as the half wore on.
Even West Ham, who have dropped 24 points from winning positions this season, could not find a way to blow this lead. Noble, surprisingly playing at the highest point of midfield, was looking like a cockney De Bruyne. Bowen caused constant problems, arrowing two rasping efforts wide, and West Ham saw another chance go begging when Noble’s cross teed up Soucek, who was unfortunate to see Krul push his rising shot over.
It was a brilliant save from Krul but the Norwich goalkeeper was powerless to stop West Ham doubling their lead just before half-time. Noble swung in a free-kick and Antonio glanced in an easy header.
Antonio was running riot. After 53 minutes Noble made another telling impact, lofting a clever pass through for Antonio. The 30-year-old raced clear and although Krul saved his first effort, he gobbled up the rebound with a looping header.
Norwich collapsed. The visitors attacked again and Antonio became the first player to score four goals in one game for West Ham since David Cross in 1981, tapping in a cross from Ryan Fredericks.
It was a grim march to the death for Norwich. Farke had waved the white flag before this game, admitting that his side were all but down. He just wanted his players to enjoy themselves. The problem, though, is that there is nothing fun about relegation.