Norwich City were tonight left needing snookers to avoid the drop into League One next Sunday. Either that or divine intervention.
“A miracle,” were Bryan Gunn's words afterwards.
Two, free, far post headers from Shane Long in the 68th and 78th minutes broke City's hearts as Mali international Jimmy Kebe was twice allowed to sling oh-so teasing crosses away behind Jon Otsemobor and onto the head of the unmarked Reading striker for his eight and ninth goals of the season.
It was a 2-0 defeat that guaranteed both Nottingham Forest and Plymouth a place in the Championship next season.
Only a defeat for Barnsley at Home Park and a victory for the Canaries at Charlton on Sunday will save City's skin – both look remote possibilities now. The Pilgrims can put their feet up; their job done.
As for City, they now have to find the mental wherewithal to muster a challenge at The Valley as 3,000 Canary fans prepare for the trip to South-East London with little or no hope left in their hearts.
Given the fact that Charlton have fallen even further and faster than City from their one-time lofty perch under Alan Curbishley in the Premiership, it should be a right old laugh on Sunday as the two, famed 'community clubs' prepare to take their respective communities to pastures new next season.
Tonight and Gunn was clinging onto the words of his skipper Gary Doherty as Norwich's shattered players returned to the dressing room – the third tier of English football now staring them squarely in the face.
“As the captain said in the dressing room: 'Funny things happen in football…',” said Gunn, his own personal hopes of leading Norwich out of the relegation wilderness in his short spell at the helm now looking all-but doomed.
Hurt was written all over his face as those two, Long goals banged the final two nails into Norwich's Championship coffin.
“We've got to really believe that if we get our job right at Charlton… we've got to believe a miracle will happen; that Plymouth will help us out and they'll put a performance on in front of their own supporters. And that Lady Luck will shine on us.
“But obviously we've put ourselves in the position where we have to do our own job first and then hope that something else happens.”
Before the break and Norwich were at the races; albeit never quite in the face of an unruffled Reading keeper.
Sammy Clingan (twice), David Carney and Alan Gow four minutes after the restart would fire just high and wide, while the ever-willing Cody McDonald would shrug off three hooped shirts en route to a cul-de-sac at the edge of the Royals box with strike pal Alan Lee free in the inside-left channel.
But it was all from-a-distance stuff.
At the heart of that Royals defence Michael Duberry was rarely unduly troubled; in goal, Marcus Hahnemann didn't have a save of note to make.
And come the hour-mark, Norwich were fast running out of both belief and ideas as Steve Coppell's typically well-organised side looked a division apart from their hosts – a fate that, in every reasonable likelihood, is now no more that six days away.
Taking the players back out afterwards for a 'lap of honour' with that prospect now all-but a reality was, said Gunn “very difficult”.
“But out of respect to the supporters and out of respect to the football club, that is what we had to do,” said the City chief.
“Myself as manager; the rest of the staff; the players – no matter what the result tonight, we were going to be doing it.
“And, obviously, after the result tonight it made it even more difficult. But, at the same time, this is a famous football club; the supporters will support it through thick and thin. There were thousands that stayed behind which I'm grateful for and out of respect for that, the lap of applause was what we had to do.”
The goals were carbon copies – Mali international Jimmy Kebe working himself into enough space behind Jon Otsemobor to deliver two, inch-perfect crosses for an unmarked Long to head home at the far post.
It was rough justice on both Doherty and Jason Shackell; through the middle they held firm all night; ditto Sammy Clingan who covered acres of ground in the Canary cause.
Up front McDonald continues to look a genuine contender; Lee got little change out of Duberry and Co. Because Reading are Reading – solid, well-organised and big. Just like Sheffield United. Solid, well-organised and big.
The three, simple traits that you need to get out of this division; the three, simple traits that Norwich have long lacked.
And tonight – as on so many occasions before – they duly paid the penalty.