Home or away, it’s just a matter of when for City
David CuffleyEaster has traditionally been regarded as the time when a lot of key promotion and relegation issues are decided, but even Norwich City's runaway lead at the top of League One is not enough to put them in a position where they can clinch their return to the Championship over the holiday weekend.David Cuffley
Easter has traditionally been regarded as the time when a lot of key promotion and relegation issues are decided, but even Norwich City's runaway lead at the top of League One is not enough to put them in a position where they can clinch their return to the Championship over the holiday weekend.
With Easter moving around considerably from year to year, it has not always been such a decisive time of the season as one might think, and two more factors have reduced its significance.
Firstly, clubs tend to play fewer matches than they used to over the Easter period. The days when City had to play Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, providing a veritable feast of football, are long since gone. Players today would probably shudder at the very thought.
The Canaries had no Easter fixtures at all in the Premiership in 2005 and just one in the Championship in 2008.
Secondly, the introduction of the play-offs has meant that many more issues are still undecided going beyond the holiday period, often to the last day of the season.
Even maximum points for the Canaries against Tranmere on Friday and Stockport on Monday and two defeats for both Leeds United and Millwall - a very unlikely treble, it must be said - would not put Paul Lambert's team mathematically beyond the chasing pack.
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Nevertheless, Saturday's dramatic late victory over Leeds has - barring self-destruction on a scale which even City would struggle to inflict - made it just a matter of when, not if, their return to the second flight is confirmed.
With an 11-point lead and just eight matches to go, at least two sides will have to win four more games than Norwich from now onwards to deny them a top two place. As Captain Mainwaring might have put it: 'I think we're entering the realms of fantasy here, Jones.'
Excited fans have already been debating when and where would be the most likely game for City to clinch promotion.
The Canaries quickly sold out their 3,000 tickets for the trip to Leyton Orient on April 13, and though it is one of the shortest away trips of the season it may have rather more to do with the fact that supporters sense a repeat of the historic night in 1972 when a 2-1 win booked first division football for the first time.
Fast forward four days and could there be a more suitable place for exorcising the ghosts of 2009 than The Valley, scene of the humiliating 4-2 defeat by Charlton that sealed their relegation to League One last May?
But if neither of those matches produces the magic moment - and while not wishing to postpone the moment a day longer than necessary - wouldn't it be a change to clinch promotion at home for once?
The last time that happened was in 1960, when a 4-3 victory over Southend in front of a Carrow Road crowd of nearly 35,000 booked City's ticket back to Division Two after a wait of 21 years.
After going up at Orient (1972), Portsmouth (1975), Sheffield Wednesday (1982) and the Odsal Stadium, Bradford (1986) - then getting promoted on a night when the first team wasn't playing at all in 2004 - Carrow Road is overdue for such a moment.
The MK Dons match on April 10 will probably be too soon, but Gillingham on April 24 is a possibility.
Could it be that on the 50th anniversary of their last exit from the third division the Canaries will do the deed on home soil in front of another full house?
t SEVEN DAYS TO SAVOUR
This is when and where City clinched promotion - and in some cases the title.
1934 (Division Three South): Only one team went up, so both promotion and the title were achieved by Tom Parker's team on the same day, Saturday, April 21, 1934, with a 3-1 victory over Coventry, who finished second. A crowd of 16,903 were at The Nest.
1960 (Division Three): Archie Macaulay's City team, inspired by a brilliant display by wingers Bill Punton and Errol Crossan, beat Southend 4-3 on Wednesday, April 27, in front of 34,905 at Carrow Road to seal promotion. Southampton won the title.
1972 (Division Two): A 2-1 victory at Orient on Monday, April 24, gave Ron Saunders' team a ticket to the top flight for the first time in club history. A crowd of 15,530 flocked to Brisbane Road. The title was clinched by Dave Stringer's goal in a 1-1 draw at Watford five days later.
1975 (Division Two): City's 3-0 win at Portsmouth on Saturday, April 26, in front of 18,977, coupled with Sunderland's 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa the same day, gave John Bond's team promotion in third place behind Manchester United and Villa.
1982 (Division Two): Ken Brown's Canaries lost 2-1 at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, May 15, in front of 10,000 travelling fans but Leicester's failure to beat Shrewsbury - they drew 0-0 - meant the defeat did not matter. City finished third behind Luton and Watford.
1986 (Division Two): Only about 1,500 City fans travelled to the Odsal Stadium, temporary home of Bradford City, on Saturday, April 12 for the 2-0 win that clinched promotion with four matches to spare. Seven days later, Dale Gordon's goal in a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City delivered the title in front of a crowd of 17,757.
2004 (Nationwide League Division One): City Reserves had a home match against Brentford on Wednesday, April 21, the night Crystal Palace's 3-0 home win over Sunderland effectively booked the club's Premiership ticket. Nigel Worthington's men were then crowned champions on Tuesday, May 4, despite a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland.
t SKY ARE THE LIMIT
Given the way that Sky TV has mysteriously ignored some of the Canaries' biggest League One games of the season - Colchester away, Huddersfield away, Leeds at home - it is absurd that their travelling supporters have been handed a journey to Tranmere on Good Friday night, necessitating a 500-mile round trip for an evening game and in some cases an overnight stay.
Not for the first time, the TV bosses who cater for the needs of the armchair supporter appear to have shown no consideration at all for the genuine football follower.