Norwich City were today handed the chance to make that second, automatic promotion spot their own tomorrow night as promotion rivals Cardiff City were held to a 2-2 draw by visitors Barnsley.
It completed an excellent weekend for the Norfolk side as all their main rivals failed to pick up three points – Swansea City and the in-form Burnley both lost, whilst Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and the Bluebirds all drew.
The only winners were league leaders Queen’s Park Rangers with the London derby success over a ten-man Crystal Palace.
All of which left the Canaries still in joint second with Swansea – only the Swans better goal difference denying Paul Lambert’s men a place in the top two.
That could all change again tomorrow, however, as Bristol City head to Carrow Road. Once again, Norfolk will expect.
But the fact remains that the Canaries are already one of the weekend’s biggest winners without even kicking a ball – no-one has stolen a march on them. Opportunity now knocks to kick on again and set the pace for the remaining nine games of the season.
“We know we didn’t play well,” Bluebirds boss Dave Jones told the BBC afterwards, having twice seen his expensively-assembled Championship side take the lead only for Barnsley to twice peg them back again.
What was interesting was the way that his thoughts echoed those of Forest boss Billy Davies – nerves, on the pitch and off it, are playing a huge part in deciding who gets that second ticket to the land of milk and honey.
“The whole place felt nervy,” said Jones, rightly so after their last home outing ended in that 2-0 home defeat by Ipswich Town.
The Blues did Norwich another big favour this weekend by holding Leeds United to a 0-0 draw. With the Canaries still to travel to Portman Road, the Suffolk side are becoming something of a ‘kingmaker’ in terms of the final run to the line.
“We’ve got to step it up and play with no fear,” added Jones. “And looking at it today, there was a little bit of fear there.”
He – like everyone else – can see opportunity knocking. For now, however, everyone appears to be doing their utmost to look said second-place gift horse in the mouth.
“Everybody doesn’t seem to be taking that opportunity at the moment,” said the former Wolves and Southampton boss, all-too well-versed in the nerves that grip players and fans alike at this stage of the season.
“It was difficult out there for them – you could just feel it all around the place,” he added, again echoing the frustrations of Forest chief Davies as the fingers started to point from the terraces.
Jones could, he said, understand the fans’ frustrations. A new stadium matched with new and expensive players – they were the side whose name should have been on that second spot, if money did indeed count for anything in this division.
“But, at the end of the day, we’re still in a good position – but we didn’t play well today. There’s no getting away from that fact.
“It looked a nervous performance. We just weren’t as fluent as we can be – and you can put it down to that [being nervy]. But you’ve got to get rid of that.”
As for that game tomorrow night, City boss Lambert wasn’t expecting anything different from the norm – another really tough game, only one now with added expectations following events of this weekend.
“A really tough game – and it was a tough game down there,” said the manager, with a Simeon Jackson brace helping the Canaries to a 3-0 away win last autumn.
“But everyone knows that we’re at home with ten games to go and we’re sat in joint second – it’s up to us to try and drive it on.
“There’ll be another big crowd who will come and, hopefully, get right behind us and we will go and try and get a win.”
The fact that it was a Monday night made no difference. “We have to win. It’s as simple as that. We have to win.”
Team-wise and the major injury doubts surround Aaron Wilbraham and Zak Whitbread, both of whom played through the pain in the 3-2 away win at Leicester City last week.
The extra 48 hours Sky TV have granted the pair may yet make all the difference.
After his emergency date with the appendix surgeon, Simon Lappin could make a welcome return to the squad too.
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