Norwich manager Dean Smith has insisted planning is well under way for a run at the Championship title race next season after Premier League relegation was confirmed by defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday.
The Canaries’ 2-0 loss, coupled with Burnley’s come-from-behind 2-1 win at Watford, condemned Norwich to the drop after just one season in the top flight for the third time.
In the last three seasons Norwich have finished first in the Championship twice and bottom of the Premier League once, with another 20th place a distinct possibility as they sit one point behind Watford in 19th.
Although there was disappointment on Smith’s return to Villa Park there was no great surprise, and the 51-year-old said the club had been planning for either survival or relegation since the turn of the year.
“Part of the reason for coming here was for both: to try and keep us in the league but also if we did go down, I know the Championship and have taken a team out of there before,” said Smith, who brought Villa up via the play-offs in 2019.
The summer will give Smith the chance to put his own stamp on the Norwich squad, although he will hope to keep together a core of players who have already shown they are good enough to earn promotion.
“I’m looking forward to it, but I was looking forward to working with these players as well,” he said. “That’s why I feel responsible that we haven’t improved enough to stay in the league.
“There is certainly a lot to work with. There’s some really good players at this football club that can get better, they’ve just found the step to the Premier League a little bit hard.
“We know they are more than capable of playing at Championship level.”
Smith took over at Norwich in November. The Canaries began the season with only two points from 10 games, and though they won their 11th match, against Brentford, it would be Daniel Farke’s last match in charge.
From there, survival always looked like a long shot, and although he could not deliver it Smith said he believed his side had improved on his watch.
“I think we knew when we came back into the Premier League and had only two points after 10 games that it was going to be tough to stay up,” he said.
“There’s been moments when I feel we could have been better. You’ve got to win the games against the teams in and around you, losing at home to Brentford and Leeds away in quick succession was a big disappointment.
“Like most teams you don’t get much out of Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea so that’s why it looks a lopsided Premier League again with the top three getting a scary amount of points…
“I think we’ve made progress but not as quick as I’d liked.”
“We have to aspire to winning the league again like we have done in the last two seasons we were in the Championship. If we do that hopefully we can use the lessons of this season to do better.”