Bluebirds boss Dave Jones was not in the sunniest of post-match moods this afternoon after watching his Cardiff side squander their chance to leap-frog back over the Canaries and into that prized second spot.
Twice Cardiff would take the lead against champions-elect QPR only for Rangers skipper Adel Taarabt to twice level. It left the South Wales side a point adrift of Lambert’s Canaries with just three games of the season to go.
Both are guaranteed a place in the play-offs; both, however, still have more than one eye on the bigger prize – an automatic promotion slot.
And with Reading’s winning sequence coming to an end at Elland Road on Friday night with that 0-0 draw against Leeds, so City’s stunning 5-1 away win at neighbours Ipswich Town looks ever more significant.
It wasn’t just local pride at stake as two old tribes went to war – it set a bar for Cardiff to leap 36 hours later. And they failed. That second ticket back to the Premiership is once again now Norwich’s to lose.
“The keeper has had nothing to do really – and he’s had to pick the ball out of the net twice,” bemoaned Jones, after a 20th goal of the season from Jay Bothroyd and a strike from ex-Canary Craig Bellamy looked all set to give the home side three more, priceless points.
This lunchtime’s result also denied Rangers both the title and a guaranteed promotion place. Should they lose their last three games, in theory Neil Warnock’s side could still be denied by both Norwich and Cardiff.
In reality, given Rangers’ vastly superior goal difference, they need just a point to make promotion safe. Which, in turn, would leave just one more automatic promotion spot up for grabs.
The lottery of the play-offs awaits the loser. To the winner goes a £60 million trip to the big time.
“We should have won it, could have won it, but could have lost it at the end because we were chasing hard,” admitted Jones, with Cardiff having spent big in their chase for Premier League status.
Bellamy might be a local but his season-long loan deal from Manchester City will not have come cheap. Jones has long been under pressure to deliver; both board and supporters bring high expectations to the table.
Back in Norfolk and no-one would have expected the newly-promoted Canaries to be within touching distance of back-to-back promotions. Hence, in part, why City can play with the ‘No fear!’ mentality Lambert saw in that crushing defeat of their derby rivals.
“It was a good performance – and we’re still in the mix,” Jones told the local BBC afterwards, well aware that they, too, have expectations of his expensively-assembled outfit.
“QPR weren’t going to come here and have a party at our expense,” he added, with the title champagne on ice for Warnock & Co.
“And there’s still three games to go. A lot of twists and turns to come; we’ll just keep digging in and keep going.”
Cardiff travel to relegation-threatened Preston North End on Monday as the Canaries entertain Derby County at Carrow Road.
The big game, however, could still be that final game of the season for the Bluebirds – away at Burnley. The Clarets remain the side to watch after travelling away to Pride Park this afternoon and racking up an eye-catching 4-2 away win to propel themselves right onto the brink of a play-off place.
Given they were 2-1 down at the break, it suggests that Eddie Howe’s men will still be very much alive and kicking come the visit of the Bluebirds in a fortnight’s time.
Norwich, of course, entertain Coventry City the same day. It is there that promotion is likely to be won or lost; with Burnley holding the key to Cardiff’s eventual fate.
Not that next weekend’s final away trip of the season to Portsmouth promises to be a push-over for Norwich – however well they travel. Pompey managed to hold Swansea to a 0-0 draw at Fratton Park this afternoon as their challenge, likewise, just began to run out of legs when it mattered most.
So there would appear to be someone playing for something at Portsmouth; they might not be wholly on the beach just yet.
But with Cardiff, Swansea and Reading all being limited to just a point, there was no doubt as to who was the biggest winner this weekend – with Burnley and Forest not too far behind.