City midfielder Andrew Surman knew just how important Friday night’s win over Nottingham Forest was – just as much as he recognised the difference Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan make to this particular Canary outfit.
Both were back in the mix again for the live Sky cameras after their respective hamstring scares of the week before.
And whilst Cardiff’s all-too easy win over Portsmouth yesterday may have ensured that Norwich’s return to the top two was only fleeting, the Norfolk side are all-but guaranteed a ticket to the play-off party after the 2-1 win over Forest.
The big question for both Cardiff and Norwich now, however, is whether they have the legs to keep one step ahead of Reading over the course of the last four games of the season.
The Royals racked up their eight win in a row with the 2-0 win away at Scunthorpe and are finishing the season like a train. They remain, however, still two points shy of the Canaries, whose next outing is the small matter of Thursday night’s derby tie at Ipswich.
Hence Surman’s delight at Friday’s big three points – a result that left City 11 points clear of Forest in seventh spot and ensured that the defeat at Swansea and the draw at Watford had been trumped by that vital home win.
“We knew we needed a win after those two results this week,” said Surman, speaking directly after the game on Friday night. His second goal in Canary colours proved all decisive after Holt’s 22nd of the season had wiped out Nathan Tyson’s freaky opener.
“It put us back into second, but also put the pressure back on the other teams in and around us,” he said, as the Canaries dug deep into their physical and mental reserves to come out smiling after their third game in six days.
“Obviously the legs are going to be tired,” admitted Surman. “And they’ve also had a lot of games as well, so it was tough for both sides.
“But I think we’ve got quite a lot of strength in depth when you see the players coming off the bench in the likes of Henri [Lansbury] and Lapps [Simon Lappin] and that’s great. So I think we’ve got a strong enough squad to cope with that amount of games.”
Whilst the world and his wife will insist that it is a squad effort, that no-one or – or two – players are bigger than any other individuals, the sight of Hoolahan resuming his midfield duties after two games out and skipper Holt delivering another huge shift after barely being able to walk at the end of that 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road will have sent new belief coursing through both the terraces and the dressing room.
The race for that second spot is going to be tight; very tight.
And will, in every likelihood, go right down to the final afternoon of the season when City play host to Coventry, Reading entertain Derby and Swansea City provide Sheffield United with a farewell party to the nPower Championship.
The toughest assignment falls to Dave Jones’ Bluebirds who travel to Turf Moor and a tricky to Burnley. The Clarets enjoy a game in hand on everyone else. It arrives on Tuesday night with a home clash against Middlesbrough.
Three points there and they would be right back in the play-off mix again; fighting for their ticket to the top six on the final day of the season. Coventry, Derby and Sheffield United, you hope, will have more than one eye on the beach.
To see the names G Holt and W Hoolahan on the team-sheet gave everyone a ‘massive’ lift, said Surman.
“I think we’d missed Wes in the last two games and it was great to see him back today and obviously Holty’s come back from the dead – and produced a goal and an assist. So it was fantastic and whenever you see their names on the team-sheet, I think it gives everyone a lift.”
It was the perfect through-ball from the skipper as Surman sprang the off-side trap and clipped a confident finish over a stranded Forest keeper.
“He [Holt] waited just the right amount of time; luckily I just managed to stay onside,” said Surman. “It was a great pass and didn’t really leave me with much to do.
“It was just two good sides out there; Forest are a good side; difficult to beat. But on our day, I think we can beat anyone.
“It’s important to put pressure on the other teams and it’ll be nice tomorrow [Saturday] to just sit back, watch the games and hope that someone slips up,” he added.
That someone was, of course, Swansea who lost 2-1 at Burnley. It left the Swans four points behind the Canaries, with Reading now motoring into fourth.
Twists and turns, twists and turns. It won’t be over till its over.