City boss Paul Lambert tonight described City’s back-to-back promotions as ‘a miracle’ as the mother of all promotion parties engulfed Norfolk, Portsmouth and all roads in between.
Cardiff City’s shock 3-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough three hours earlier gave the Canaries a huge, pre-match boost.
Victory, by whatever margin, would return the Carrow Road side to the top flight in English football for the first time in six, long and barren seasons – one of which, of course, was in League One and involved a 7-1 home defeat on the opening day of the season.
In the end, one goal proved all that Norwich needed to bag that second, automatic promotion spot behind champions QPR. The title could, of course, still be their’s should the FA’s disciplinary panel find against Neil Warnock’s men this Friday.
Either way, the Canaries can now go into next Saturday’s final home game of the season against Coventry City knowing that Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea now await next season.
The lottery of the play-offs is someone else’s concern.
They are back in the big time courtesy of two promotions in the space of two, extraordinary seasons the likes of which are rarely, if ever, seen in the modern professional game. Certainly not in terms of an entrée into the Premiership.
“It’s a miracle what’s happened to this football club over the last two years,” said Lambert, fresh from being mobbed by a delirious, 3,000-strong travelling army of Canary fans at Fratton Park tonight.
They have been served some dross on the long hauls from home over the last six seasons. Tonight – and for many a night over the last two seasons – they have earned their reward for their unwavering support.
A night they will treasure for generations to come.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for the lads,” Lambert told BBC Radio FiveLive. “It’s been absolutely amazing what they have achieved.”
A thought that could, of course, likewise extend to the manager and his close-knit backroom team, principal of which is City’s one-time UEFA Cup hero Ian Culverhouse, now Lambert’s right-hand man on the coaching front.
“It’s probably not yet sunk in what we’ve achieved,” said Lambert, about to become the seventh Glaswegian manager to ply his trade in the top flight of English football. And after events of late, he can hold his head high amongst that select group of driven individuals. The key to Norwich’s success, he claimed, was very simple.
“Good players – always is. What they’ve done for me over the last two years, allied to the ones already at the football club, has been monumental.
“They’re good lads. They don’t give me one bit of bother, they respect each other and those lads deserve everything that’s coming.”
Others might beg to differ. That the manager has played a pivotal role in Norwich’s extraordinary renaissance.
And on a night like this, it would be churlish not to pay tribute to the club’s majority shareholders – Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones and Banham Poultry chief Michael Foulger.
Their financial resilience amidst the madness of football’s finances deserves much credit. They have, in many senses, been to hell and back before finding a little slice of footballing heaven this evening.
Jackson’s lone strike – his ninth goal in the last seven games – will come to dominate tomorrow’s back pages. The 24-year-old Canadian has repaid Lambert’s faith ten times over of late after his £800,000 switch from Gillingham last summer initially failed to deliver the goods.
But the manager kept faith in the livewire striker. And when opportunity once again presented itself, so Jackson delivered – and kept the likes of Premiership loanees Henri Lansbury and Dani Pacheco out of City’s starting line-up.
Tonight, however, Lambert offered rich words of praise for one of his side’s unsung heroes – midfielder David Fox whose peach of a 50th minute cross delivered the chance on a plate for an ever-alert Jackson.
“I had him at Colchester and the biggest compliment I can pay him is the fact that someone once said to me that he’s like a poor man’s Paul Scholes. And that’s a hell of a compliment.”
Lambert also revealed that he had been forced to change the squad’s travel plans this evening; that there was no way they would make it back to the airport in time to get the final flight back into Norwich this evening.
One suspects Lambert and his players won’t need wings to fly back into a celebrating city this evening.
Spirits of every description will lift his promotion heroes back into the arms of a grateful Norfolk Nation ahead of the biggest home-coming of the lot in Saturday’s final home game of the season against Coventry City.
Win, lose or draw, Norwich are back in the big time. And nor will their fate be decided by the Football Association lawyers on Friday.
They got there under their own steam, the masters of their own destiny.