Blues end season of discord on a sour note
Tevez hints at exit and fans turn on Kolarov as Howson sinks City
Another five-goal thriller on the final day of the season at the Etihad Stadium, but how the picture has changed in the space of 12 months for Manchester City.
A year after parading the Premier League trophy during an ecstatic lap of honour following the injury-time 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers, City ended this campaign with no manager, no trophy and the home supporters turning on defender Aleksandar Kolarov after singing the name of Roberto Mancini, six days on from his sacking by the club's Abu Dhabi hierarchy.
Where Sergio Aguero's 94th-minute goal last May ensured an unforgettable moment at the end of seismic afternoon, on this occasion it was left to Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson to sprinkle the stardust with the stunning solo goal which ultimately secured victory for Chris Hughton's team.
Howson's goal, remarkable as it was, will not claim the headlines, however. Those will be reserved for the acrimonious ending to a turbulent campaign at the Etihad and a final-day defeat which City's demotivated players thoroughly deserved.
Manuel Pellegrini will have to rebuild confidence and morale within the dressing-room this summer when he is finally confirmed as City's new manager in the coming days.
But if this is how City's players perform after the burden of playing for the unpopular Mancini has been lifted, Pellegrini's job might turn out to be more difficult than he imagines.
The Chilean may also have to face life without Carlos Tevez when he meets his squad for pre-season training in July.
As he left the pitch after being replaced by Sergio Aguero early in the second-half, Tevez waved to all sides of the ground in what appeared to be a lingering farewell to the club he joined in 2009. We have been here before, of course, with Tevez and his long waves goodbye, but the Argentinian certainly made the most of his long walk off the pitch.
If it is farewell, Tevez and his team-mates must first fulfil a week-long tour of the United States when they fly out to New York today, and assistant manager Brian Kidd, handed temporary charge of the first-team following Mancini's departure, hinted at a sense that the end of this season cannot come quickly enough.
"It's been an emotional week with the events at the club," Kidd said. "But full credit to the lads, they've got stuck in and given their best and you can't ask for any more. We have fallen short of the standards we set last season, but it hasn't been for a lack of effort. You defend as a team and attack as a team, so you have to look collectively, but we haven't reached that consistency."
The treatment of Kolarov emphasised the air of discord around the Etihad, however. As City trailed in the closing stages, the Serbian full-back was roundly booed by a section of the supporters, who then chanted 'There's only one Gael Clichy' – Kolarov's rival for the left-position – in an effort to taunt the former Lazio defender.
The jeers then prompted noisy exchanges between City fans, some defending Kolarov, who appeared oblivious to the criticism directed at him.
It was in stark contrast to the outpouring of affection for Mancini, however. Having paid £6,000 for a full-page 'thank you' message to the City fans in Saturday's 'Manchester Evening News', Mancini's hold on the supporters was ensured by his well-timed, and perhaps manipulative, gesture.
The Italian's popularity on the terraces – not mirrored in the dressing-room – was borne out by the flags and banners in his honour and persistent chants of the former manager's name.
But with Kidd placed in charge for the game, there was little from the home team to suggest that Mancini's removal has led to an immediate lifting of the mood among the City players.
Norwich, having confirmed their top-flight survival last week, were the team that played free of tension and Hughton's players thoroughly deserved to emerge with the points.
Ireland hopeful Anthony Pilkington opened the scoring on 26 minutes when, after Bradley Johnson had dispossessed Yaya Toure, Wes Hoolahan fed the midfielder, who beat goalkeeper Joe Hart from close range.
City were level within three minutes, however, when Jack Rodwell scored from 18 yards following Edin Dzeko's lay-off.
Norwich reclaimed the lead when Grant Holt scored a breakaway goal on 54 minutes, however, the visitors' captain making it 2-1 from a narrow angle following Robert Snodgrass' delivery to the far post.
Once again, Rodwell levelled for City when he outpaced full-back Steven Whittaker on 59 minutes before scoring into the far corner.
But Howson claimed the win Norwich deserved with a wonder goal on 65 minutes. The former Leeds midfielder was in his own half when he received the ball, but he darted past Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta before scoring past Hart.
"Howson breaks forward very well and he is probably the one player who doesn't want the season to finish," Hughton said.
"He had a difficult start to the season, but he has goals in him and it was a super goal." (© Daily Telegraph, London)