Neil Adams’ Canaries today put in a magnificent defensive shift to put a huge dent in Chelsea’s title ambitions courtesy of a wholly unexpected 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Should the worst formally befall the Norfolk club over the next week, today’s sterling efforts at least suggested that whoever comes to take charge of the Canaries next season has some stout hearts to call on.
And that Norwich are still capable of springing the odd surprise; Arsenal at home included.
But now their fate is out of their hands; Sunderland are back in control of their own destiny – and with it that of the Yellow and Green Army.
No doubt Blues boss Jose Mourinho will point angry fingers at a yellow and green bus that managed to park itself in front of his multi-millionaires. Not for the first time this season, Chelsea had been found wanting against lesser opposition.
The 1-0 away defeat at Crystal Palace was the start of Chelsea’s title demise.
And the fact that City arrived first and foremost to defend is Mourinho’s problem, not Norwich’s. They will miss out on the title because they haven’t got the strike talent of a Liverpool or a Manchester City; both of whom boast players who can score goals in an instant – bus or no bus.
For the trip to the Bridge, Adams opted to perm yet another option when it came to his front-line – this time relegating both Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper to the bench, leaving Johan Elmander to try and prise something – anything – out of the returning John Terry.
His shift would end after 70 minutes as the pace of Nathan Redmond was thrown into the fray; the fact that it was the England Under-21 winger slammed up front and not a RvW or a Hooper again spoke volumes.
Sebastien Bassong had at least made it to the bench, but once again Adams was placing his defensive faith in the likes of a Turner and a Bennett; a Martin and a Whittaker. Solid lads that he could trust.
Arsenal’s narrow victory over West Bromwich Albion had earlier also done City a certain favour or two, but it was Sunderland’s epic efforts at Manchester United yesterday that had come to colour so much of the relegation thinking.
Both they and the Baggies are almost mathematically home and hosed; a point apiece when the pair meet at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night would seal Norwich’s fate. Albion’s far superior goal difference has – in every reality – already got them home and safe; it will do the same for the Black Cats.
Whether it was a case of the title jitters, but the double substitution at the interval told its own story as David Luiz replaced England’s Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard came on for Mohamed Salah.
Because for all Mourinho’s wiles, the home side had failed to crack the Norwich nut.
The Canaries had held firm.
André Schürrle saw one effort blocked before teeing up Terry for a header. It was saved.
The former would hit the woodwork in the 32nd minute; Ashley Cole would shank the ball over John Ruddy’s bar moments later.
Plenty of huff and puff, huge amounts of possession, but for what?
Norwich had frustrated their illustrious hosts; kept them largely at arm’s length. Indeed, for all Chelsea’s pressure in the opening 20 minutes of the second period as the story continued in a similar vein, the solid bank of massed, yellow shirts that greeted them still refused to yield.
And when they did, there was the woodwork to ride to the visitors rescue – the bar in the case of Luiz’s effort three minutes after his arrival.
Michael Turner was the rock around City’s defensive success was being built. He would be one for a Championship promotion campaign.
And while a point might not be enough to spare Norwich’s relegation blushes, it offered a final straw to cling to. Almost.
More importantly, it gave the travelling Canary support something to show for their season-long loyalty on the road. Few of them would have walked down the King’s Road with a point in mind.
Indeed as the game drifted into the final ten minutes all square, the question was raised as to whether or not Adams might not try to sneak a late winner – and throw in one of his luckless strikers alongside the ever-willing Redmond?
Three, extraordinary points would set a huge catch among the relegation pigeons.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Bradley Johnson couldn’t quite get enough purchase on a late header as the Canaries pushed forward.
And three minutes of added-on time merely found Chelsea’s frustrations growing as Norwich saw out the game with relative ease given the opposition.
All eyes now turn to the Stadium of Light on Wednesday. The inevitable may merely have been postponed, but today was all about a little bit of pride being restored.
Norwich aren’t disappearing with a whimper. And all credit to them for that.