City’s long and increasingly bitter quest for Premier League survival became just that little bit more clear-cut this afternoon following Chelsea’s 2-1 victory at Aston Villa.
Three points from tomorrow’s final home clash of the season against West Bromwich Albion will now guarantee Norwich’s place in the top flight next season. Frank Lampard – scorer of an 88th minute winner this afternoon – is also guaranteed a grateful place in Canary hearts as he swung the maths back Norfolk’s way.
Today should have been Villa’s survival party. Tomorrow should be Norwich’s.
Defeat, however, and…
That’s a path no-one is looking to tread; not with a trip to Manchester City still to come on the final day of the season.
But dramatic events at Villa Park where Lampard’s double second-half strike threw a large spanner into their works – and again at the DW Stadium in mid-week where Swansea inflicted a potentially crucial home defeat on Wigan Athletic – have swung events back in favour of Chris Hughton’s men.
And Wigan host Villa on the final day of the season.
Therefore either Wigan scramble to safety via winning their final two games of the season and cutting short Paul Lambert’s celebrations as Villa find themselves stuck on 40 points – or else the latter complete their own relegation escape at the expense of the Latics.
Victory or a draw for Villa at the DW would leave Wigan on either 38 or 39 points – with Norwich safe and clear on 41 should they do the necessary against the Baggies tomorrow.
And that’s without throwing Newcastle, Sunderland and Fulham into the mix. The two, North-East clubs both have games against Arsenal and Spurs to play – given the race to be top dogs in London and grab the final Champions League berths, they are not going to be easy games for either Newcastle or Sunderland.
But – and this is the $64 million dollar but – City have to take full advantage of such slices of fortune and not let this one, last chance to avoid a fraught final weekend of the season.
No-one, but no-one, wants to be heading to the Etihad next week with something still needed to be sure of avoiding that devastating drop back down to the Championship – from whence there is no guaranteed return.
Speaking at the pre-match Press conference this week, Hughton insisted that the mood in the camp was positive; that the crushing home defeat against Villa was out of the system.
“The mood has been good,” the Canary chief told the club’s official website.
“The lads, no doubt, know what this game means,” he added.
“They know how badly we want to win this game, and certainly it won’t be through lack of effort. It’s about us making sure that we get the result that we need.”
The fact that they now know exactly what a victory means will help; events elsewhere tomorrow afternoon are now wholly irrelevant – as long as Norwich do what they need to do.
Thereafter, let everyone else sweat it out next weekend.
“We don’t know what the other results will be,” said Hughton. “We have to make sure that is very much in our hands. If we get the results that we need to get, then you don’t have to rely on other results.”
It promises to be a day of high drama – not least for the fact that it is the final home game of a long and gruelling second season back in the Premier League and for some of those present it could yet prove to be their last appearance in front of the home faithful.
Certainly it will be fascinating to watch the body language of three-time Player of the Season and skipper Grant Holt at the final whistle. Much has already been said and mooted about his plans for the future as a certain Dutch international striker waits in the wings.
Could this be Holt’s final hurrah in a Canary shirt?
Word has it that John Ruddy could, finally, make one last appearance for the season after a campaign ruined by that serious thigh injury. The return of the England international keeper should at least lift the anxious mood ahead of kick-off, though it will not be one for the faint of heart.