Norwich City’s promotion party at home to Coventry City on Saturday could yet have an extra special guest – the nPower Football League Championship trophy.
Last night’s 1-0 win over Portsmouth – coming hard on the heels of Cardiff City’s shock 3-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough – booked the Canaries a place back in the Premiership and sparked wild scenes of celebration at both Fratton Park and beyond.
Neither Cardiff nor Swansea City could now deny Paul Lambert’s men a place back in the top flight of English football as the ‘impossible dream’ of back-to-back promotions was secured via Simeon Jackson’s 50th minute diving header in front of 3,000 delirious City supporters.
Equally, neither could the lawyers thwart Norwich’s best-laid promotion plans.
Whatever happens this week with regard to the whole QPR and Alejandro Faurlin saga, Norwich City were in the Premiership on their own merits. They were not endebted to a slip in the paperwork or the actions of a third party agent for their place at the top table of English football.
The morning after what-a-night before and the sense that Rangers were about to face a points deduction was only growing – fuelling speculation that the Canaries could yet find themselves crowned champions at Carrow Road on Saturday afternoon if the four-man FA Disciplinary Panel find against the Rs over the course of the next four days.
Significantly, former FA chief executive Mark Palios was wheeled out on BBC Radio Four this morning and immediately suggested that a points deduction was the likely outcome; precedent was not on their side.
With just five points between ‘champions’ Rangers and now-promoted Norwich, a six-point deduction would put the Canaries in the box seat to take the title if they were to win that final home game of the season against Coventry.
QPR are at home to Leeds United and with their vastly superior goal difference should be able to see off a late charge from a shell-shocked Cardiff who travel to Burnley.
Whip nine points off Rangers and there is everything to play for with regard to that second, automatic promotion spot. But a nine-point deduction would hand the Canaries the title whatever transpired against Coventry.
It would also enable Football League chiefs to present the famous old trophy to Lambert and Co at Carrow Road, away from the poison and recrimination that is likely to engulf Loftus Road if this week does not work out as well as the Rs’ legal team plan.
“There is a lot of precedent around playing an ineligible player and that ranges from the clerical errors around the transfer window, when they get small points deductions, to more serious situations,” Palios told listeners, with the whole Carlos Tevez saga still fresh in one or two minds.
Not least that of Rs boss Neil Warnock whose Sheffield United side were eventually awarded £20 million in compensation off West Ham United for their role in the Blades’ relegation. United were, of course, relegated to League One this season. The red half of Sheffield are unlikely to forgive or forget in a hurry the role ‘third party ownership’ played in their demise.
Faurlin, like Tevez, was signed from Argentina; the parallels are, in every likelihood, all too close to home for Warnock. Palios, for one, is expecting his successors at Soho Square to take a strong line on the matter.
“I think following the [Carlos] Tevez affair it is neccessary for a statement to be made. This is more serious than a clerical error, so deserves a points deduction almost certainly,” added the former FA chief.
“The second charge with regard to illegal payment to agents, I think there is a precedent when Luton got 10 points deducted for doing that. Interestingly, the FA said they tried and didn’t say they actually did make the payments to unregistered agents.”
Meanwhile, back in South Wales Bluebirds boss Dave Jones was forced to defend his players against charges of ‘choking’ as their season ended in such a heap – 3-0 down after little more than 20 minutes in what was their biggest game of the season.
Beaten in the play-off final against Blackpool last season, Cardiff could once again end the season back where they started it – in the nPower Championship.
“I can’t say if it was down to nerves or not,” Jones told the icWales website, after goals from ex-City loan star Leroy Lita, Barry Robson and Richard Smallwood teed up Norwich’s triumph three hours later.
Cardiff, defensively, were all over the place. Little wonder that Bluebirds skipper Craig Bellamy would look back from the half-way line in utter disbelief as his dreams of leading his home-town club back into the Premiership collapsed on the back of a first-half no-show.
“All I can do is apologise to the fans because we just didn’t turn up for 45 minutes,” admitted Jones.
“We conceded two schoolboy goals and lost our discipline and when we needed them to settle down and regroup we conceded again. It was poor defending from front to back and we’ve gone from the sublime last week to the ridiculous.
“We’ve been putting in good performances and then this has happened so close to the death. I didn’t see it coming and I don’t think anyone did. We haven’t played anywhere near we are capable of but we have to pick ourselves up and go again.”