City boss Glenn Roeder has saluted Dion Dublin's decision to bow out at the top after the 38-year-old all but booked the Canaries a place back in the Championship again with his second minute opener in the 2-0 win over Burnley at Carrow Road yesterday.
It leaves Norwich six points clear of the drop zone with four games left to play. And while FA Cup semi-finalists Barnsley may have two games in hand on the Norfolk side, one more win should be enough to complete Roeder's remarkable 'Great Escape' act – particularly as the likes of Coventry City, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday are struggling to buy a win right now.
Couple that with a consistent level of performance that the Canaries have settled into of late and one more win should see them home with both Scunthorpe United and Colchester United now unable to over-haul Roeder's men.
It took just 61 seconds for the Canaries to calm everyone's relegation nerves yesterday as the one-time Coventry one-two of Darren Huckerby and Dublin ripped Burnley open as the veteran striker's ninth goal of the season put City in the driving seat – where they would stay for the rest of the contest, even if it needed Ched Evans' 90th minute drive to finally seal the points.
Given the level of his all-round performance and the standing ovation that greeted his 89th minute exit, was Roeder not tempted to try and persuade Dublin to stay for one more year? To give the TV sofa a miss for 12 months and employ his influence, his experience and his goals in driving the Carrow Road club nearer the top six than the bottom three next season?
“No – he's emphatic about that,” said Roeder, all too well aware of the impact that the veteran striker brings to the party – on and off the pitch. The fact that City's newest signing – 17-year-old Academy prospect Luke Daley – was immediately citing Dublin as a big, guiding light on his arrival in the first team dressing room merely proved again just what a hole the one-time Manchester United and Aston Villa striker will leave on his retirement.
“I have to say – and it's only a personal opinion – that I think it is the right thing for him to do,” said the Canary chief.
“I'm endorsing what he wants to do and he won't let anyone change his mind. He's been a magnificent human being, first of all. And alongside that a magnificent footballer.
“To get to his age and still playing at this level – and scoring goals and playing well is testimony to what I've just said about him,” added Roeder, with Dublin producing one, glorious flick over the Burnley back four that Darel Russell could then only scuff into Brian Jensen's hands.
“If I was him, I wouldn't want to carry on and give younger players the opportunity to get the better of him – [young players] that, to be honest, at his best wouldn't be good enough to be on the same pitch as him.
“And I've always believed that top players should get out at the top. I don't like to see top, top players work their way all the way down the divisions and I think it's important that when he leaves the game at the end of this season he leaves the game with all of us – the football world – remembering him for what he was. One of England's top, old fashioned strikers.”
For many the previous home game against Colchester United was the key contest – the real six-pointer. The psychological damage of losing at home to the Championship's bottom club could have been fatal – even a failure to beat the U's would have set the alarm bells ringing ever louder.
But for Roeder it appears that yesterday's contest was the important one; the one that finally put the finishing line within touching distance. No doubt, many a twist and turn still awaits but even City will do well to conjure up four blank weekends between now and the end as they travel to Ipswich next Sunday before playing host to beaten FA Cup semi-finalists West Bromwich Albion the following week.
With a home game against mid-table QPR coming ahead of that final game away at Sheffield Wednesday, there ought to be three points – if not possibly two draws – within that little lot to see City home. Hence why Roeder viewed yesterday's three points in such a vital light.
“We knew the importance of the game,” he said. “But I didn't want to load the players up with any more pressure than was needed.
“But, in my opinion, although I always say the next game is the most important, I actually thought that this was the game that we had to win with only five games to go. This was a must-win – and I told them that afterwards. Because they started the game under incredible pressure and they've carried it off. And not with a lucky win, but a deserved win.”
And one that all started with that 61-second opener – a strike that beat Norwich's first goal against Colchester United by five minutes. It just then took the Canaries the better part of an hour-and-a-half to find the second, killer strike.
“The person who said that you can score too early probably doesn't work in football any more,” said Roeder, handed a dream start by thre Huckerby's run to the byline and Dublin's instinctive movement into the six-yard box to meet the subsequent low cross.
“Because I've never believed that – if I could start every game 1-0 up, I'd take it,” he added. “You can never score too early and you can never score too late. And that's what we've done.
“But in between that – and I think we've played really well – I think we've missed some good chances again to wrap the game up. And generally speaking Marshy [David Marshall] didn't have too much to do. And that was important for me too – that we kept a clean sheet as well as win.”
Marshall's biggest save came deep in the second-half when his left ankle managed to deflect a stabbed Kyle Lafferty shot wide. But despite Clarets boss throwing both Andy Cole and Ade Akinbiyi on before the end as he looked to keep their flickering play-off hopes alive, Norwich dealt pretty comfortably with all they could muster.
Bag a couple of those opportunities and, all in all, yesterday would have proved a pretty regulation home win. It is one of the grimmer ironies of this turbulent season that for all City's many trials and tribulations – not least finding themselves friendless and adrift at the very foot of the table by late autumn – they are now just nine points off sixth spot.
That's the 'beauty' of the Championship for you.