I was explaining what the consequences of us winning and Norwich drawing would be to the people I was with while we were watching the final scores coming in on Sky Sports’ Soccer Special when their coverage switched to Paul Walsh describing Simeon Jackson’s hat trick goal which gave the East Anglian side their twenty third last minute win of the season (okay, I’m exaggerating there, but only a bit). As had been the case all afternoon, the media’s coverage centred almost entirely on how what Norwich were doing effected QPR and as the picture switched to Loftus Road to watch a group of people who were having their inevitable promotion delayed for another few days, the final scoreline “Preston 0 Cardiff 1″ was only deemed noteworthy because it confirmed Preston’s relegation.
Be honest, were you really that surprised when Norwich went 3-2 ahead? However, the fact that I wasn’t shocked doesn’t make the sense of disappointment any less and, surely, the real losers when it came to Jackson’s goal were Cardiff City and their supporters not Queens Park Rangers? Yes, the chances of a massive points deduction that would see them stay down at our expense can’t be entirely ruled out and we might yet turn around the thirteen goal difference the Londoner’s have while we win our last two matches as they lose theirs (after all, didn’t some team throw away a twenty odd goal difference advantage with four matches to play a couple of years ago?) , but just ask anybody at QPR whether they would want to swap positions with us at the moment!
Norwich maintaining their lead over us though should not distract from the credit City deserve for their win at a ground where they have taken right hammerings. I don’t just mean in the last two seasons when I say that either – we have suffered more heavy defeats at Deepdale since I started supporting the club than at any other ground going all the way back to a 9-0 in 1966. Quite what it is about that part of Lancashire I don’t know, but Cardiff sides have had a tendency to turn to jelly when they pitch up there – since the 9-0 we have suffered seven defeats by three goals or more there and, my research shows that a couple of months after I saw my first match in October 1963, we were beaten 4-0 at Deepdale.
Anyone who watched Preston being stuffed by Millwall on Saturday when they were lucky to only lose 4-0 could be forgiven for thinking all City needed to do yesterday was turn up to claim the points, but they would be discounting just how badly we have done there in the past and, probably more importantly, the fact that Preston were in their best form of the season before the weekend. Just like when we faced Sheffield United a couple of weeks ago, we were visiting a team desperate for the three points for a different reason to us and we went there and did a professional job in picking up the win while not conceding a goal. Despite all the plaudits they get for the way they play the game, the defeats Swansea have suffered in recent weeks at Deepdale and Bramall Lane are as big a reason as any as to why their automatic promotion hopes are negligible now.
It was good to see Peter Whittingham, who, for me, played as poorly as I have seen him do in ages on Saturday, get the goal from the inevitable Bellamy assist. By all accounts, we could and should have scored more as we created plenty of first half chances, but those City fans, like myself, who feel that we do not get that much luck in games (e.g. Ipswich) have to acknowledge that it was certainly on our side when, having had a Chris Brown header hit the post, Nathan Ellington’s follow up was blocked on the goal line by team mate Billy Jones (the fact that another Preston player had the fit again Tom Heaton pinned to the ground in a wrestling hold at the time mind might have had something to do with why Preston came so close to scoring!).
Having Mark Hudson back quicker than expected came in handy in the second half when Preston, hardly surprisingly, resorted to an aerial assault in a failed attempt to preserve their Championship status. The centreback returned to first team action following his injury at Millwall when he replaced Kevin McNaughton who was, reportedly, suffering from cramp and with Michael Chopra getting another twenty minutes of action when he replaced Craig Bellamy, it’s heartening that, David Marshall apart, Dave Jones will, seemingly, have a full squad to pick from for our last two matches.
It still has to be advantage Norwich though and, with there now being only the two matches in which they can drop the points we need them to, their chances of pipping us for second have to be better than they were. I happen to believe that they will win their last two matches and we will have to compete for that last promotion place in the Play Offs again, but I have been wrong plenty of times already this season and I’m sure I will be again before the campaign ends. Portsmouth away will not be easy for Norwich because I believe Steve Cotterill will have his side up for the game. Although they are bottom of the form table currently, Portsmouth have gained two good draws against promotion chasing sides over the Easter weekend, but, even if Norwich win at Fratton Park and we still find ourselves that one point behind them going into the last match, Dave Jones only needs to remind his team of one result from yesterday to show them that we are still right in the running for second place - Reading 2 Sheffield United 3 after the home side had been two up in twenty minutes really does prove that anything is possible in the 2010/11 Championship!