Swansea’s 2-0 win at Millwall and, indeed, QPR’s capture of the nPower Championship title courtesy of their own 2-0 away win at Watford this afternoon could all come to mean diddly-squat if that four-man FA Disciplinary Panel find against the Rs next Friday.
The prospect of Neil Warnock’s side being docked up to 15 points if they are found guilty of breaching third-party ownership and registration rules regarding their Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin has come to cast a huge shadow over the final ten days of the season.
No-one quite knows for certain who will be needing what come next Saturday’s final round of fixtures with the FA reportedly aiming to announce their findings just 24 hours before the Canaries play host to Coventry City and Cardiff travel to Burnley.
By when, of course, Swansea’s pursuit of that second automatic promotion spot could have fizzled out should their South Wales rivals pick up a result at home to Middlesbrough at five o’clock on Easter Monday and the Canaries follow suit away at Portsmouth some two hours later.
All Swansea can do is now go level on points with the Canaries – one point for Paul Lambert’s men over the course of the next three hours of football will be enough to end Swansea’s challenge.
Everything, however, remains in the balance as the lawyers prepare to go to work this week.
Automatic promotion was, said Swans boss Brendan Rodgers, still very much on the agenda.
“That’s the idea,” he said, speaking after goals from Darren Pratley and Stephen Dobbie had ended Millwall’s faint hopes of crashing the play-off party.
“We’ll see what happens after Monday’s games and then we’ll go again against Sheffield United and aim to finish strongly in front of our own fans,” added Rodgers, well aware that it will all have to come down to goal difference if the Swans are to deny Norwich.
“Two goals and another clean sheet keeps us moving forward, but whatever happens to finish in the play-offs this season is a monumental effort; a wonderful achievement.”
The pressure, he agreed, was back on Norwich and Cardiff. “Absolutely. They’ll want to get their wins, but today we got a great win and that is all we can do.”
All Rangers could do – for now – was to win at Watford and, in theory, make the title their own. Warnock insisted that this particular promotion campaign was the sweetest of the lot – even if it could yet all turn very sour on the Rs.
Reports in The Sun that suggested the FA had already all-but made their minds up were roundly rebutted by an official FA spokesman. But the damage had been done; the Rs cage well and truly rattled – as Warnock readily admitted.
“When I looked at the coverage it destroyed us, the place was like a morgue. We’re all guessing,” he told the Press after today’s game, their fate now firmly in someone else’s hands.
Even if The Sun’s report proves accurate and Rangers are hit with the full, 15-point deduction, they do at least now have enough points on the board to finish with a minimum of 73 points – four clear of seventh-placed Leeds with just a game to play.
So a potential bitter pill might – just – be sweetened by the second chance of a top six finish. It is still all gearing up to be a real mess. Given the fact that the whole affair has been bubbling along since last September, it doesn’t speak volumes for the footballing authorities that come the final week of the season and everyone is still fumbling around in the legal dark unsure of what will happen next.
“We have to wait until Friday,” said Warnock. “And I’m happy with what my barrister has told me.
“I just get on with winning games. I don’t fear anything, I was brought in to win promotion and that’s what I’ve done.
“You can do without it as a manager but you’ve got to get on with it. I’ll be glad when it’s over and then I can talk about it.”
Of course, the other nightmare scenario is the one in which QPR are found in breach, docked the points and then launch a fearsome summer legal appeal – the outcome of which will then leave everyone else in the dark as to where they will be playing their football next season.
As ever, the biggest winners will be the lawyers as they charge their usual king’s ransom to wade through the paperwork; the biggest losers the players and supporters – left second guessing which way their football lordships will jump in the final and most crucial hours of a long, hard season.