Norwich City's survival hopes could yet come down to 90 minutes of football next Saturday afternoon and an agonising, 48-hour wait thereafter following yesterday's ill-deserved 2-1 home defeat by title-chasing West Bromwich Albion.
All of which leaves the Canaries desperately needing to wrest at least a point out of next Saturday's home clash against Queen's Park Rangers if they are to make certain of their Championship survival.
And whilst Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City might be slugging it out elsewhere that afternoon, the key contest may yet prove to be the Monday night TV game at The Hawthorns where West Bromwich Albion will have the promotion champagne on ice as Southampton head for the Midlands.
Because as much as Norwich's home defeat by the Baggies might have left everyone in Norfolk on the edge of their seats, down at St Mary's yesterday's 1-0 home defeat by Burnley will have set every alarm bell ringing.
Two points adrift of Norwich and with a poorer goal difference to boot, if Norwich can prise just a point out of QPR then the Canaries will be safe come ten o'clock Monday night if West Bromwich Albion book their place back in the Premiership with a thumping win over the Saints.
On yesterday's evidence and the clinical – and wholly telling – manner in which Tony Mowbray's team despatched their Norfolk hosts as and when any half chance presented itself, you would strongly suspect that Southampton will be there to make up the numbers next Monday night. As Jason Shackell found out, drop a half-cleared header anywhere near Zoltan Gera and watch what happens next.
Take chances, you win matches. Take chances, win matches and you win titles. Miss chances, lose matches – and you find yourself a mere three points off the drop zone with two games left in which to save your season.
“If you don't take your chances, you don't win games of football,” was Glenn Roeder's opening line, after watching the likes of Darren Huckerby, Jamie Cureton and Ched Evans all spurn the kind of half chances that the likes of Gera, Kevin Phillips and Robert Koren thrive on.
For despite dominating the game in Stoke-like fashion for the better part of 75 minutes, Baggies keeper Dean Kiely barely had a save of note to make. In the end it needed a 74th minute penalty to offer Evans the chance to finally put the ball beyond the keeper's reach.
It put the Canaries within touching distance of a deserved point, but despite throwing all they had at the visitors in what remained of normal time and the five, frantic minutes of stoppage time that followed, Kiely barely had a save to make as chance after chance either flew over, went wide or dropped comfortably into his waiting arms.
City's cause wasn't exactly helped by referee Iain Williamson seeing little wrong with Roman Bednar's first minute roll on top of David Marshall – the result of which saw the ball pop out of the City keeper's hands and into the path of Koren who had the simplest of opportunities to stab a 90-second opener home.
“I thought once we got through the first 15 minutes – we were slow starters today – we finished the first-half the better team,” said Roeder, with Huckerby about to slash a far post volley horribly wide after Kieran Gibbs had dinked the ball over everyone and onto the City winger's right boot.
“We were on top and missed a glorious chance to equalise just before half-time. We come out; rip into them; first 12 minutes of the second-half we have four great chances – not only to equalise, but to have won the game,” added the City chief, as the Canaries put on one of their best performances in all but one, crucial regard.
“I think we've competed very well with the best team in the Championship; in fact, at times, I think we were much the better team,” said Roeder, with skipper Mark Fotheringham proving just what Norwich missed at Portman Road last weekend.
Not only was his passing game on form, he was delivering the kind of forward balls on which the likes of a Huckerby thrive. It was what happened next that undermined everything else.
“We know that's been a major problem this year,” said Roeder. “It's not as if we're not making chances – and that's the thing I find most frustrating. We played some quality football against a team that deserves to be top of the table. And I have no doubt about it, they will win automatic promotion as champions.
“But they know they have been in a game today and I think they have got to feel quite fortunate that we have missed so many good chances to allow them to take all three points.”
Roeder wasn't about to make a fuss about Koren's opener; it made for grim viewing from the start as Phillips stole in free behind Gary Doherty, Marshall only half-saved Phillips' initial shot and Shackell failed to clear his lines. It was rough on the latter, in particular – and Gera's stunning finish from his 71st minute clearing header. Otherwise the City centre-half stayed firmly on top of his game.
“It was a dodgy situation just before – they looked as if they might have scored and then he got both hands on the ball. And I immediately looked up the pitch thinking that he'd have picked it up and be hoofing it up quickly.
“The next time I look back and it's in the back of the net.”
That prompted an afternoon of abuse for Mr Williamson – he struggled to get a big decision right thereafter and it needed a distant linesman to point out Leon Barnett's 73rd minute handball that, briefly, gave the Canaries a lifeline.
“When I've seen what's happened on the ProZone at half-time, it's a poor goal,” said Roeder. “So we lost a bad goal in the first minute – against the best team in the Championship.
“We're fighting for our lives and it took us 15 minutes or so to get to grips with the game. And, you're right, they had other chances – but when Kevin Phillips missed he was offside; the other few chances they had, they didn't go in. But we've missed four glorious ones – so if you put us three down, we're four up. If we take our chances…
“4-3 up. They took their's and we didn't. And that's really been a feature of this season. We have to make too many chances to score too few goals…”