Canary hero Darren Huckerby gave what appeared to be the first of, no doubt, many farewell speeches yesterday – suggesting that next weekend's crucial home clash with Queen's Park Rangers would be his last at Carrow Road.
“Looks that way, doesn't it? All I can tell you is what I know – and at this present time it looks like I will be leaving,” the 32-year-old told radio reporters straight after yesterday's 2-1 home defeat by title-chasing West Bromwich Albion. “But no hard feelings – that's life,” Huckerby added.
City's two-time Player of the Year – long since assured of a place in the club's Hall of Fame – is, of course, out of contract this summer. Rumours have long abounded of a possible Indian summer in the United States with a spell alongside David Beckham at LA Galaxy being one reported destination for the Canary favourite.
For his part, Norwich boss Glenn Roeder has insisted that nothing has been decided yet; that contract talks with the likes of Huckerby, Gary Doherty and skipper Mark Fotheringham would only begin in earnest once the Canaries knew for certain which division they would be playing their football in next season.
This latest defeat – coupled to a win for Leicester City away at Barnsley – has ensured that City's fate remains firmly in the balance; defeat at home to Rangers and the Norfolk side will be looking squarely down the barrel of a League One gun a week later when they travel to Sheffield Wednesday for the final, decisive game of a long and invariably fraught season.
The fact that next weekend's game will also be Dion Dublin's last at Carrow Road as the veteran striker prepares to bow out of the professional game after 20 years of sterling service merely adds to the emotional mix that awaits everyone next weekend.
Whether Huckerby now knows for certain that another new, Carrow Road contract is not in the pipeline or whether he was simply saying his farewells just in case remains a moot point. In fairness to both manager and board, the potential financial fall-out of a drop into League One probably forces all concerned to put talks on hold. In the meantime, however, Huckerby can do little more than presume these next two games will be his last.
The fact that City could yet be banished to the third tier of English football on Huckerby's last game for the club is all too grisly a prospect.
“I don't want to play the last couple of games thinking that we could get relegated – that would be unfair on me and unfair on the lads,” said Huckerby, well aware that the Canaries are in this position for a simple reason.
“We're in this position because we haven't won enough games,” he told Radio Norfolk, clearly desperate that four, glorious years in a Canary shirt do not end on an all-time low.
“Hopefully, we can get ourselves out of this situation and I can look back at this as probably being the best part of my career,” said Huckerby.
Will it be an emotional day for you next weekend, was the next question.
“Of course it will – like I said, I've had great, great times here,” said Huckerby, whose exploits – on and off the field – in that title-winning season of 2003-2004 were the stuff of legend. Respect between player and fan is obviously mutual; the prospect of Messrs Dublin and Huckerby doing their laps of honour around Carrow Road next Saturday with the Canaries still needing a result from that trip to Hillsborough will, for many, be too much to bear.
An afternoon of high drama awaits.
“There have been times over the last four years here where I've felt unstoppable – and that's the honest truth. I thought no-one could stop me. And I only felt that because of the fans showing me that much respect; they loved me that much that they expected things to happen every time I got the ball,” said Huckerby. “So it'll be a sad day, but life goes on – and that's football. It's a great club and, hopefully, I'll be a part of it for years to come.”
City have, at least, got one last home game to cling to. For Southampton there is no such lifeline next weekend – the Saints, even deeper in the mire following this weekend's 1-0 home defeat by Burnley – travel to champions-elect West Brom for the Monday night TV game. Home to Burnley was their 'home banker' – and they blew it. Norwich no have to cash in their own home banker and beat Rangers.
“It's not a comfortable position to be in, but we've left ourselves with a chance – it's a home game next week and if we win that we'll be safe,” said Huckerby, with the outcome of the Leicester-Wednesday clash also likely to have a huge bearing on the eight days of the season.
“So we've still got a lot to do, but like I say we've got a big home game next week. The fans have got lift the roof, lift us and, hopefully, we can get the points that we need.
“But we've got to win next week – we don't want it going to the last game of the season because they'll need points as well. It's up to us to win our next home game.”
By rights, Norwich should have had at least a point for their troubles yesterday. As ever, however, if you don't take chances, you don't win matches and City's Achilles heel this term duly came back to haunt them again.
“I wouldn't say we out-played them, but we were at least on par with the top team in the league. So you can take heart from that, but it's still not three points,” said Huckerby, who spurned one of the game's best chances on the 45-minute mark – slashing a far post volley wide after a perfect tee-up by Kieran Gibbs. He did have Paul Robinson launching himself head-first at his feet, but like those that fell to Dublin, Jamie Cureton, Ched Evans and Jason Shackell after the interval, the ball at least needed to hit the target. The keeper had to be made to work.
The fact that the Baggies opening goal after just 90 seconds was, in part, prompted by Roman Bednar rolling all over David Marshall and forcing the ball to pop out of both his hands and to the feet of Robert Koren merely fuelled Huckerby's sense of injustice.
“I don't know if you've seen the replay of their first goal, but the keeper has clearly got two hands on it – and their bloke falls on him, knocks the ball out of his hands and that's a foul…
“I wouldn't say that it changed the game, but it put us on the back foot and after that I thought we played very well. We didn't get the result that we deserved.”
Watching the ProZone replay at the break didn't help.
“We've seen it; he's got two hands on the ball and he's knocked it out of his hands – the referee says he's going to look at it, but that's not going to help us now, is it?”
Overall, another case of the what-might-have-beens. Zoltan Gera showed City exactly what they lack with his 71st minute finish – Shackell's header may not have got the distance he wanted, but the Baggies ace was still some 25-yards distant when he swept the ball into the far corner. One half-chance was all he needed.
“Considering they're top of the league, I thought for large parts of the game we dominated it; created a lot of chances and on another day would probably have scored two or three. I wouldn't say that it's the story of our season, but scoring goals has been a problem for us,” said Huckerby, as the clock apparently ticks down towards the end of his famous Carrow Road career.
“They needed to win the game as well; they're trying to go up and we're fighting for our lives – and for large parts of the game, we were the better team today. But that doesn't help us – they're top tonight and we haven't got any points again.”