The Canaries booked their place back in the Championship next season in the most emphatic of fashions this afternoon with a 3-0 win over Queen's Park Rangers.
For with Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City locked in battle at the Walkers Stadium and both unable to walk away with three points, so neither are now able to over-haul the Canaries 55-point total.
Ched Evans set the party in motion in the seventh minute with a fine controlled volley as the home side began to make the most of Damion Stewart's fourth minute dismissal for a professional foul on the 18-year-old.
Skipper Mark Fotheringham added the second in the 56th minute before substitute Darel Russell rounded off the fun and games with a 35-yard lob into an empty net after a hapless Lee Camp had gone walkabout and, ball lost, duly paid the penalty as Glenn Roeder's 'Great Escape' reached its final conclusion – fittingly in front of Norwich's biggest home crowd of the season.
Pre-match and it was all a case of saluting the achievements of Dion Dublin as the 39-year-old – making his last appearance before a Carrow Road crowd – was rightly crowned Player of the Season for 2007-2008.
On the one hand he has been one of Norwich's most consistent performers this season, on the other he has been one of the big figures in the English national game for the better part of 20 years and to walk out of the professional game with his head held high and a piece of Barry Butler silverware to adorn his Stratford mantelpiece was all he deserved. Football saluting one of their own.
Post-match, of course, and the mood could be a whole lot darker if Roeder's team selection failed to deliver the three points goods and book City's place back in the Championship again next season. For having seen Dublin pick up Player of the Year and Darel Russell earn second spot, most would have put both straight back into the team for today's crucial encounter.
Roeder, however, opted to keep both up his sleeve and on the bench and instead keep both his front-line of Evans and Jamie Cureton intact and his midfield where Arsenal 18-year-old Kieran Gibbs faced the game of his teenage life against the West London side.
This afternoon was not the place for faint hearts as the Canary faithful answered Roeder's pre-match call and duly raised the roof at kick-off. Much may yet await Master Gibbs at The Emirates. For now, however, this will be the biggest pressure-cooker game of his career. There wasn't an empty seat to be seen.
There was one, interesting tactical change from last weekend as Huckerby – potentially, of course, making his own last appearance in Norfolk – started the game on the left; Gibbs on the right.
All such thoughts were out of the window after just four minutes when the game erupted in just the kind of controversy Norwich needed as referee Phil Joslin sent off Stewart for a professional foul on Evans.
It was extraordinary decision as Evans raced in between the luckless Stewart and the advancing Lee Camp and onto the end of a long punt downfield by David Marshall. The 18-year-old certainly nicked the ball away from both and into the box, but it was the ex-City loan keeper Camp who flattened Evans a yard outside the Rangers box.
The official – some 40-yards distant – saw different and to the utter glee of the Carrow Road faithful whipped out his red card for a professional foul.
The fun didn't stop there as Evans, having seen his fiercely-struck free-kick deflect up and away off the Rangers wall, smashed Norwich into the lead three minutes later.
Huckerby's corner was only half-cleared as Rangers desperately tried to re-group following Stewart's exit and as the ball arced down to a free Evans, so the teenager wound himself up and, with a sweetly-struck volley, thumped his tenth goal of the season beyond a shell-shocked Camp.
It was all too much for the Rangers bench as, with only eight minutes on the clock, boss Luigi De Canio made two changes with Gareth Ainsworth and Hogan Ephraim making way for Mikele Leigertwood and one-time loan signing, Zesh Rehman.
Matty Pattison could have given Norwich that extra cushion of a second goal on 19 minutes as he drove through the inside left channel and into an inviting space inside the Rangers box. With Cureton breaking away to his right, the Canary midfielder managed to do neither one thing nor the other – either offer a shot on target or a decent cross for Cureton. In their suddenly buoyant mood, the City faithful gave Pattison the benefit.
Huckerby was certainly starting to enjoy himself as he rifled through his bag of party tricks for possibly one last time. He almost doubled Norwich's advantage on the 23rd minute with a low curler that disappeared a yard beyond Camp's left upright after a smart tee-up by a Cureton-Evans combination. Evans swept a better chance no more than a foot wide three minutes later courtesy of an instinctive touch inside from Gibbs.
For now, Marshall was a spectator as City made the most of their one-man advantage – Ryan Bertrand coming even closer to No2 when he sprang the offside trap and tucked a low shot around Camp but against the inside of his left-hand post. With Rangers defiantly playing two up front and just the three in midfield, they were getting over-run as Fotheringham and Pattison found themselves in acres of space.
Given the almost-balmy conditions it was no surprise to find the tempo starting to drop as the interval loomed, but with just that one-goal advantage to show for all their efforts, nothing was decided yet. Evans and Cureton almost teed up Fotheringham only for his shot to be blocked.
City were fast becoming guilty of trying to pass the ball into the net. Both Evans and Cureton had a chance to hit and hope when deep inside the Rangers box. Instead they passed back to the lurking City skipper and the opportunity fizzled out. The irony was that when Cureton did opt to shoot five minutes later, he should have passed – Evans racing on beyond him and through a vacant inside-left channel as his strike partner swept a 20-yard effort high and wide of Camp's left-hand post.
With the next goal likely to prove wholly crucial, Cureton was the first to show after the re-start as he almost squeezed onto an Evans header. Norwich needed that second goal to put both this contest – and the season – to bed. Until someone, somewhere converted a chance into a goal, City would play with fire and one late leveller…
On cue Cureton would force Camp into an excellent, stretching save to tip an attempted lob away; seconds later and Evans would squeeze a shot beneath Camp only for Matthew Connolly to clear off the line.
Moments later and the Canaries all but booked their place back in the Championship next season as Alan Mahon's clearing header from a 56th minute Huckerby corner fell out to Fotheringham. His low shot was aimed bottom right, but pinged off Rehman's left ankle en route to finishing up bottom left Camp long since horribly wrong-footed.
It was all City deserved chances and possession-wise as for once, when it mattered, both form and fortune didn't let them down. A two-goal cushion would, in theory, also enable Dublin to grab the send-off he deserved in the game's dying minutes. In the meantime, Luke Chadwick stepped into Pattison's shoes as the spaces continued to open up in the midst of a tiring, ten-man Rangers side.
Cureton sprang the offside trap in the 68th minute and forced Camp to go walkabout outside his box; Fotheringham could only lift a 30-yard lob wide of an empty goalmouth. A minute later and Cureton would drive a wonderful ball between keeper and Connolly that only just skipped away from Evans.
Two minutes later and he would deliver another telling ball into the near post where Chadwick just missed out on a stoopi
ng header; Evans would fire a 25-yard rocket a yard wide as Norwich continued to run amok.
With 15 minutes left, the crowd got one of their dearest wishes as Dion duly made his farewell appearance. The next wish would be for the newly-crowned Player of the Season to bow out with a goal – that would round a near-perfect afternoon off just nicely.
He almost did with a 50-yard drive four minutes from time that Camp had to hastily catch some 12-yards off his goal-line. It had technique, class, power and precision written all over it and summed up just what Dublin has brought to the party for the last 20 years.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Bertrand, Shackell, Doherty; Huckerby, Pattison (Chadwick, 63 mins), Fotheringham, Gibbs (Russell, 78 mins); Cureton (Dublin, 78 mins), Evans. Subs (not used): Croft, Pearce.
QPR (4-4-2): Camp; Mancienne, Delaney, Stewart, Connolly; Ainsworth (Leigertwood, 8 mins), Mahon, Rowlands, Ephraim (Rehman, 8 mins); Balanta, Blackstock. Subs (not used): Crowther, Barker, Lee.
Man of the Match: Ched Evans
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