Norwich City’s survival mathematics took another interesting twist this evening as far from the madding Nou Camp crowds, Bolton Wanderers beat Aston Villa.
Had Wanderers lost, Norwich’s place in the Premier League next season would have been confirmed.
With just four games left, the Trotters would have only been able to reach the 42-point mark; one off the Canaries.
With both Blackburn and the already-relegated Wolves unable to overhaul Paul Lambert’s men and Wigan requiring snookers goal difference-wise, City would have been able to go into this weekend’s home clash with Liverpool in something of a party mood. Come what may over the next three weeks, Norwich would be back in the top flight next season.
The maths, finally, said so.
However two goals in the space of two minutes just after the hour-mark gave Bolton three priceless points and ensured that Villa are now looking firmly at the abyss – having won just once in their last 13 Premier League games.
They travel to local rivals West Bromwich Albion this weekend, before playing host to Tottenham in their final home game of the season. Their last game is, of course, at Carrow Road. This evening and the locals were venting their full fury in the direction of boss Alex McLeish.
“I couldn’t see that coming the way we played in the first-half – we were exceptional,” said a shell-shocked Villa chief afterwards. This was their home banker game; their ‘Get Out Of Jail!’ card.
“We’ve only got ourselves to blame for not putting the result beyond Bolton,” he told SkySports.
“But it’s still in our hands – we have nine points to play for and we’ve simply got to try and get ourselves out of this situation that we’re in at the moment.”
Given that Bolton are now just three points behind Villa – and still with a game in hand – it could well all come down to that final day of the season. High drama until the very end; ideally one that Norwich will be no more than a spectator to if, for example, Bolton slip up at Sunderland and the Canaries add to Liverpool’s own Premier League troubles.
Wigan fail to stop the Newcastle band-wagon, Norwich are safe. The Latics have still to face Blackburn; the permutations are endless.
Bolton – you sense – might be a team on the rise as they channel the whole Fabrice Muamba episode into positive performances and results.
Ditto Wigan Athletic; neither club have that relegation ‘air’ about them as boss Owen Coyle saluted his players resolve after slipping a goal behind in a huge, six-pointer at Villa Park.
“That’s what we have got to do, give performances like this to make sure we remain in the Premier League,” Coyle told SkySprts afterwards.
The form book is certainly on their side; most neutrals might also hope that Bolton pull off one of the greater escapes of recent times – if only for the manner in which they rallied round their stricken team-mate now, thankfully, well on the road to recovery.
“We have been in good form, I think that’s 13 points from 21 now,” added Coyle, as both Bolton and Wigan heap the pressure on the beleagured McLeish. Coupled to Blackburn’s win over Norwich last weekend, all eyes are on Villa now.
They are the ones fast heading south this spring.
“Everybody else around about us was winning when we were idle and this was one of our games in hand and we still have another one and that’s what we have got to do, give performances like this to make sure we remain in the Premier League,” added Coyle.
“We had to do it the hard way but again all credit to the lads – they stood up to be counted away from home, a hostile atmosphere when Villa scored who had their tails are up and probably felt they would go on to win game.”
They didn’t. And should the Baggies add to McLeish’s woes this weekend, it is all shaping up to be a big, big game at Carrow Road on the final day of the season. Particularly if you’re a Villa fan…