The big question tonight was quite simple. When was the last time it felt this good to be a Norwich City fan?
Most would probably suggest the night that Mike Walker’s Canaries travelled to the Olympic Stadium, Munich.
On that night –the better part of 18 years ago – they became the first English team to defeat Bayern Munich in their own back-yard; Jeremy Goss scored a goal that will, forever, remain imprinted in the minds of a generation of Norwich supporters.
This evening, however, and that game has a rival after Paul Lambert’s Canaries stormed back into that second, automatic promotion spot with an “extraordinary” 5-1 away win against the oldest of enemies.
In any other season it would have been an astonishing result – particularly given that the corresponding fixture at Carrow Road had already delivered Norwich’s biggest ever league win over their nearest and dearest neighbours.
To out-gun that 4-1 result – in Suffolk – on an evening in which City’s hopes of back-to-back promotion were right back under the spotlight again after Cardiff nicked that second automatic spot off the Norfolk side is, indeed, extraordinary.
It was the one word that Lambert kept repeating this evening as he spoke to reporters afterwards.
“No game is easy and you have to earn the right to win football matches. I thought my team were extraordinary, the football they played,” said Lambert.
Ipswich played their part in their own downfall. Aaron Lee-Barratt helped Andrew Surman for the first; Gareth McAulay added to unbridled joy north of the border with an own goal for the second. To be 2-0 up with a mere 25 minutes on the clock was good, but it was about to get a whole lot better after the break
Grant Holt – destroyer-in-chief in that Carrow Road clash – delivered Simeon Jackson a tap-in for the third as Norwich’s dominance over a side that had won four of their last five nPower Championship outings was complete.
Jimmy Bullard might have conjured up something special to haul Town back into the contest, kind of. Only for a fabulous, over-lapping run and goal from Russell Martin to bang the final nail in the derby coffin before the on-loan Dani Pacheco grabbed his first goal in City colours four minutes into added on time.
It was a huge gauntlet laid laid back at the feet of both Cardiff and Reading; neither of whom would have been expecting Norwich to deliver such a result away at their biggest rivals.
“It was incredible right from the off,” said Lambert, well aware of the form book that Town took into tonight’s game. To finish the season 9-2 down on aggregate to the neighbours is the stuff of Suffolk’s worst nightmares.
By the same token, it is the stuff of Canary legend. Nights rarely get this good.
“We were up against a team which has been on fire lately and a vibrant crowd. To come here and do what we have done was a big, big test of character and the performance was excellent,” said the City chief.
“At this stage of the season, it may get a bit edgy, but the way the lads are going at the minute is extraordinary.”
Typically, Lambert continued to play the under-dog card; insisting that Cardiff remained in the driving seat. Should the Bluebirds win their game in hand again, they will leap-frog back over the Norfolk side and into second again.
But Cardiff cannot now afford to slip up. Likewise, the in-form Reading have to keep their foot on the gas if they are to overhaul the Canaries over the last four games of the season.
“All we can do is win our games. We have done everything we can to hang in,” said Lambert tonight.
Norwich have, of course, just three games left. Home to Derby on Easter Monday, away to Portsmouth on the following Saturday and at home to Coventry on the final Saturday of the season.
Given the post-derby party that will now descend on Carrow Road this Monday and the manner in which Portsmouth would appear to have one eye on the beach, few would bet against City finishing the season with a 100 per cent record.
That would put all the pressure on Cardiff. With games against QPR and Burnley still to come, the smart money must tonight be on the Canaries to sweep back into the Premiership.
Town boss Paul Jewell could do little but admit that his side’s performance had been ‘embarrassing’.
“It was a local derby, a full house and you try to put on a decent show for supporters, so the scoreline is embarrassing, no doubt about it,” he told the Press.
“We probably had more possession than them and more chances but it was obvious that in both boxes they were exceptional and we were average to say the least.”