City boss Glenn Roeder this morning laid down the 'ten cup finals' gauntlet at his players' feet as the Canaries approached the now-or-never mark in terms of a play-off challenge.
Plymouth's 4-1 midweek romp against luckless Colchester United put that sixth and final play-off spot nine points distant. And with just ten games of the season left, Roeder admitted that there was precious little room for error now as City prepared for tomorrow's trip to the Ricoh Stadium and the chance to add to Coventry City's relegation fears.
“We've got ten cup finals,” said Roeder, after new Sky Blues boss Chris Coleman made the same observation this week – for reasons more concerned with the bottom three, than the top six.
Back in Norfolk and Roeder has long been doing his sums. Last week's home reverse by Blackpool, as opposed, to the two 'dropped' points at Watford probably nipped all that talk in the bud. But never say never is clearly part of Roeder's way of thinking.
“We know with ten games to go we're coming to that stage of the season that if we are going to have the lofty ambitions of sixth spot – and that's the only position that I think is up for grabs – we cannot afford to drop too many more points.”
Next week doesn't get any easier either with Stoke City the visitors on Tuesday night before that testing trip to Sheffield United the following weekend. Norwich still have to play host to West Bromwich Albion and travel to both Bristol City and Ipswich Town.
“We are going to have to have a magnificent run-in,” admitted Roeder. “So we've got ten cup finals. And the next one is always the biggest. Because if you don't win that one, then it becomes harder and harder.”
It remains, however, a very large carrot to dangle in front of a dressing room and would cap an extraordinary season in the club's 106-year history.
“I said to the players before the game, the team that gets sixth spot will be the team that wants it most – sprinkled, of course, with a little bit of good fortune along the way in these last ten games.
“There will be teams that have been up there all year, that can see the winning line coming. And every two points, or three points, that they drop they'll be suddenly looking over their shoulder to see if the teams a few places down have won on the day.”
Whether Darren Huckerby is on the bus for the Ricoh looks a very moot point as the Canary winger continues to struggle with that nagging groin problem.
“He's struggling,” said Roeder, quizzed as to the 32-year-old's hopes of facing his one-time employers.
“He's improving – he's not out of the Stoke game yet. But, in all honesty, he's struggling to make Saturday,” added the City boss, well aware that Huckerby's absence at Vicarage Road in midweek would long ago have alerted Coleman to his problems.
“If you're not fit on the Tuesday, then they know he's going to be a big doubt for the game on Saturday. So he's struggling, but improving. And it would be silly to put him back in too soon and then have him break down again. There's still plenty of games left.”
He is the only slight injury concern – other than the long-term casualties, Adam Drury and Luke Chadwick. Roeder can also finally call upon Darel Russell again with City's all-action midfielder having now completed his three-match ban following the red card he picked up in the 4-0 defeat at Leicester City.
He has, it appears, been doing everything he can to force the manager into giving him an immediate recall. By fair means or foul, Russell is gunning for a swift recall. Immediately ousting either Matty Pattison or Mark Fotheringham – or, indeed, Kieran Gibbs – from Roeder's first team thinking is no dead cert.
“And he knows that – you can tell that by the way he's been in training – going round kicking the other one to make sure he does play,” said the City boss.
Roeder will also have a big decision to make with regard to Jamie Cureton after his late strike on Tuesday night earned the manager such a satisfying point. At which point, Roeder opted not to give Coleman any clues. Are his goals making it difficult to leave him out of the side?
“No more difficult than leaving anyone else out,” said Roeder, noting the fact that this week was not the first occasion that his some-time skipper had altered the course of a game in dramatic fashion with his late arrival on centre stage.
“Jamie's actually had big impact when he's come on this year,” he said. “Did it at Scunthorpe as well, didn't he?
“Once the game has stretched, there's a lot more space and room for him to play in. But that doesn't mean to say that he can't complete 90 minutes like he did against Barnsley brilliantly when he led the team. But it's horses for courses – and I left him out, basically, because of who we were playing.
“And I knew that the physical aspects of Watford's game meant that we had to be as physically big and strong as we could.”