Paul Lambert’s Canaries tonight completed the impossible dream and delivered back-to-back promotions to their ecstatic supporters.
From Huish Park to Old Trafford in the space of two, breathless seasons – and all, of course, via a 5-1 win at Portman Road.
Cardiff City’s shock 3-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough left the door wide open for the Canaries to book themselves a place back in the Premiership – if they could just prise a win out of their trip to Portsmouth tonight.
For 50 minutes a largely lifeless Pompey held out before Simeon Jackson lit the blue touch paper and wrote himself into Canary folklore with a diving, far-post header to beat Jamie Ashdown and send the 3,000 travelling Canary fans into raptures.
The Fine City of Norwich, Nelson’s Norfolk and the thousands upon thousands of ‘exiles’ that make up the proud Norfolk Nation weren’t far behind in reaching for the party button. Nights like this don’t come a long too often.
It was the 24-year-old’s ninth goal in seven games; his 13th of a season that has exploded into life of late. The likes of Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan, Andrew Crofts and Russell Martin – all have played huge parts in City’s extraordinary success story this season.
But when it mattered most, the Canadian has delivered the big, big goals to take Norwich back into the big time. The £800,000-odd that Lambert paid Gillingham for his services last summer now looks money so well spent.
As ever, there was the odd nervy moment towards the end. A second goal would have brought one or two from out behind the sofa as the seconds ticked down to a famous, famous night in the club’s 109-year history.
In the end, however, one goal was enough. Jackson had fired the Canaries back into the Premier League. Let the party start…
Some 90 minutes earlier and City almost took the lead within the opening moments only for Zak Whitbread to head a David Fox free-kick horribly wide from no more than five yards out.
The Texan was the one, pre-match injury doubt for boss Lambert; having shrugged off that hip injury, the Canaries therefore went into tonight’s crucial encounter unchanged and buoyed hugely by events from Cardiff three hours earlier.
By contrast, Pompey opened the game seemingly with more than one eye on the beach. Out of sorts before the game, there was little immediate evidence that they intended to make much of a game of tonight’s encounter.
Instead, first Hermann Hredairsson and then Aaron Mokoena opted to kick lumps out of first Holt and then Jackson. All of which would might have prompted more than a single yellow between them. But with Andy D’Urso nominally in charge of events, you could never quite guarantee anything decision-wise.
Nor can you ever guarantee anything with Norwich – other than they will wring every last piece of drama they can out of whatever’s left of their supporters nerves. So Pompey slowly settled into the contest and Norwich found chances that much harder to come by.
Mokoena redeemed himself by doing just enough to thwart a little flick and drive from Holt; Elliott Ward glanced a near-post header to nowhere as the Canaries looked to pick a path through through the Portsmouth defence.
At the other end, one-time Canary target Greg Halford offered the biggest threat via his booming long-throws heaved towards the penalty spot. But that was pretty much it as City looked for the one moment when the tides would turn and the door marked ‘Premiership’ would, finally, swing wide open.
The fear, of course, would be that if they overly chased the game, then Pompey might just slip in the kind of hand grenade that Middlesbrough threw into the promotion pot at the Cardiff City Stadium. Take a point and Norwich could – almost – afford to draw Saturday’s final game of the season at Coventry.
Almost. But that would place a lot of faith on Cardiff not grabbing a hatful of goals at Burnley. Lambert’s natural instinct would be to go for the jugular at Fratton Park tonight and make the very most of Cardiff’s shocking implosion.
But that was the view from the touchline; out there across the white line and it would be only natural if the players played a cautious hand given the prize that was at stake.
Jackson had the first chance of the second period – only to repeat Whitbread’s earlier failing as he dragged a decent opportunity wide. The next time, however, opportunity knocked via a teasing Fox cross and the Canadian’s aim was absolutely spot on.
Start the party…