And so begins the day of days. Or certainly the week of weeks as Norwich’s dream of back-to-back promotions under their inspirational manager Paul Lambert faces the day of reckoning.
Three days of reckoning, to be more precise.
Two dictated by the Football League fixture computer as the Canaries travel to Portsmouth this evening and entertain Coventry City next Saturday afternoon – victory in either game could seal their elevation to the Premiership. Victory in both certainly will.
The third, of course, is the result of this week’s FA Disciplinary Panel into the long-running saga of QPR’s Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin – the result of which is due on Friday. Were the Rs to be docked up to 15 points as some reports have already claimed, then both Cardiff City and the Canaries could be promoted before a ball is ever kicked in anger next weekend.
It is, in short, going to be quite a week for the travelling Green and Yellow Army as they head south for Fratton Park this morning.
Cardiff’s home clash with Middlesbrough is first up at 5.15pm. Victory for the Bluebirds will lift them back into second – at least for a couple of hours as all eyes then turn to the South Coast and whether or not Pompey can spike Norwich’s guns and set-up a ‘Winner takes all!’ weekend next Saturday.
“I think there’s no fear there whatsoever,” were the words of City boss Lambert ahead of this evening’s two, crunch clashes.
The manner in which his City side breezed past their local rivals Ipswich Town with that 5-1 demolition spoke volumes for the way in which they have borne the hopes and prayers of the Norfolk faithful so lightly; few would ever think that a £60 million prize was their’s to lose right now.
For Lambert, of course, everyone’s already a winner. Even if all goes horribly wrong over the next six days, City are already guaranteed a place in the play-offs – and with the advantage of playing the crucial, second-leg at Fortress Carrow Road.
That, alone, is an astonishing achievement for a club only just back in the second flight of English football.
“We’re only two games from it so you don’t need anyone to tell them what they’ve done so far,” said the City chief. “This season has been incredible – it really has.”
Back in South Wales and Cardiff skipper and ex-Canary hero Craig Bellamy was rallying the troops ahead of a do-or-die week on nPower Championship football.
“Our aim is to achieve automatic promotion and we will do everything possible to achieve that,” Bellamy told the icWales website ahead of their home clash with Boro. He knows that the odds are still stacked in Norwich’s favour. Two wins for the Canaries and Cardiff can only sit and watch Norfolk celebrate.
“If we go into the play-offs we will face that challenge as the form team – and still the best team – in the Championship,” added Bellamy. “It’s been a brilliant season. As a team we are growing. As a club we are growing. Now every single player is fully focused on finishing the job we started.”
A record, 26,000-strong crowd is expected to fill the Cardiff City Stadium this afternoon with boss Dave Jones hoping that a win will pile on the pressure for the Canaries. Today is not a day for faint hearts.
“We’re still playing catch-up at the moment so we’ve got to keep trying to pile the pressure on and pick up the points, which is what we’ve been doing all season,” said Jones.
“We are playing that little bit earlier than Norwich. Does it add pressure? Who knows? All it does is they know they have to win.”
Lambert has one, major injury doubt ahead of this evening’s clash – centre-half Zak Whitbread who is still struggling with the hip injury he sustained in the last-gasp win over Derby.
On-loan Blackpool defender Rob Edwards is ready to step into the breach. Having been through the whole Premiership promotion mill with his full-time employers this time last year, he should at least know what’s coming.
The fact that the Canaries are second – albeit only by that point – keeps them in the driving seat. Should Cardiff only draw and Norwich win, it will still go to the final day of the season. City are one-goal adrift of Cardiff goal-difference wise.
It needs Cardiff to lose and Norwich to win this evening for the champagne corks to pop this evening.
“It’s a massive advantage [being second] because we’re in that position and we know if we win two games we’re there,” said Edwards, speaking ahead of this evening’s crucial round of games.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else has done, we know we’re promoted.”
Not that it is a walk in the park.
“Saying that, the pressure’s on,” he added. “We just can’t look at anyone else, we know what we’ve got to do and if we can get six points we’re in the Premier League.”