Norwich City finally secured their Premier League status for another year this afternoon as Chelsea hammered West London neighbours QPR 6-1 – and, therefore, ensured that the Rs could not over-haul the Norfolk side.
With Wolves already condemned to the drop and Blackburn Rovers likewise unable to match Norwich’s 43-point haul, the maths now says all that City fans wish to hear – that the club will be playing host to Messrs van Persie, Suarez, Tevez and Rooney again next season.
Come what may over City’s final two games of the season – away to Arsenal and at home to Aston Villa – Norwich have achieved what they set out to do last August and will be in the Premier League come 2012-13.
It is now up to Rovers, Bolton, Wigan, QPR and Villa to scrabble their way to safety over the last two weeks of the season. The fact that Villa now face Spurs before heading to Carrow Road on the final day of the season won’t ease their nerves. Wigan and Bolton appear to have the wind in their sails; QPR and Villa quite the opposite.
City boss Paul Lambert has long insisted that avoiding relegation in their first season back in the top flight surpasses any of his previous achievements – be it promotion out of League One at the first time of asking or, indeed, promotion out of The Championship a year later. And both by the automatic door, too.
No lottery of the play-offs for Lambert and Co.
A year on and the Canaries have avoided the drop back to The Championship with two games to space – it is a remarkable feat with the level of opposition the Premier League offers merely demonstrated again this weekend with Liverpool’s comfortable 3-0 defeat of Lambert’s men.
It could have been worse with Jonjo Shelvey slamming a free, eight-yard header against the bar before missing a total sitter from no more than four-yards out as the Reds went through their FA Cup paces and in Luis Suarez offered another one of this season’s terrace villains in world class form.
The third and final goal to complete his hat-trick – the inch-perfect, 55-yard lob following a tired slip from Elliott Ward – was sensational and proved, yet again, that the top six or seven teams remain in a league of their own.
It also highlighted just how good a performance Norwich’s 2-1 success at White Hart Lane was on Easter Monday – three points that effectively sealed their place back in the big-time next year.
The hope is that Lambert’s young squad can use this first year as a big, learning curve as they seek to avoid ‘second season syndrome’ come 2012-13 and repeat Spurs (a) on a more regular basis.
For the likes of Jonny Howson, Ryan and Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington this year has to be their ‘bedding in’ season; next year and their challenge is to step up another gear and prove to be the real, Premiership deal.
Part of that learning curve will be gaining the physical and mental strength to deliver performances on a more consistent basis.
Come this, the ‘business end’, of the season and the big teams still have their foot on the gas; that the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are delivering performances with the kind of intensity that wins silverware. There is a ruthlessness to their game that, invariably, only comes with big noughts salary-wise.
Wherein lies another of Norwich’s big challenges this summer.
But on that performance, Liverpool will push Chelsea hard at Wembley – irrespective of the Blues’ own surging form and their place in the Champions League final.
It is, in short, what marks out the good players from the great – and yesterday Liverpool had at least three, great players dominating in every department on the pitch.
“You have to try and keep learning – keep trying to improve,” said Lambert afterwards. “To try and do the best that they can. And they are young enough to do that.”
City, he added, have to remember just where they were three, short seasons ago.
“You’ve got to remember what’s happened here,” said the Scot, whose services are likely to be the subject of endless speculation this summer.
“I can’t be too critical of the players [today]. It’s not too often that I go away from here disappointed.”