By Matt Rowson
A week ago, this was a massive game.
Since then, results and performances have dictated that we are effectively (if not mathematically) safe, whilst Norwich have had their promotion confirmed by a combination of their comprehensive demolition of Walsall at the weekend and Sunderland's defeat at Crystal Palace on Wednesday evening. The game thus takes on a more celebratory theme, albeit that Norwich are still gunning for the title and we still need something to bolt the door on relegation conclusively. Plus, of course, we have the undoubted attraction of "pissing on Norwich's chips"....
It's a bit difficult to know how to feel about Norwich's promotion. On the one hand, there are certainly more objectionable clubs around whose success would be easier to resent. On the other, it's difficult not to be irritated by the contrast between the pitiful away allocation which Carrow Road's redevelopment has permitted this season - not least when we grabbed a rare three points in November - and the shenanigans surrounding Saturday.
The four and a half thousand allocation afforded by the Vicarage Road stand sold out weeks ago, since when Canaries fans have been attempting a range of ploys to populate the Rous Stand in anticipation of this game being the decider. The Watford Ticket Office has, if the Norwich messageboards are to be trusted, by and large wised up and been cautious about selling tickets to Norfolk addresses, or indeed to anyone not on the club's database. Some Canaries have gone as far as ringing up for both an (ultimately redundant) Millwall ticket as well as a ticket for Saturday to feign credibility. In any event, it appears that there will be considerably more than four and a half thousand Norwich fans in the Vic on Saturday. All we can do is thank them for their money, enjoy the thought of the queues for the facilities in a packed Vic Road stand... and hope that performances of the first half at Rotherham and second half at Millwall can be extended over ninety minutes, in which case the Canaries could be chirping very quietly.
It's difficult also to assess Norwich's chances next season. By all accounts City are the best side in this year's division... but they have also had the breaks with a relatively light injury load (albeit a successful side and a light injury load is something of a chicken-egg situation), and of the members of the squad with Premiership experience, few can claim to have been successful. You have to kind of hope they make it - to offer a thread of hope to the rest of Division One - but Nigel Worthington is going to have to confirm his managerial qualities if they're to pull it off.
Robert Green will be in goal for the Canaries, having recently been called up to the full England squad. Paul Crichton is his deputy, but has yet to feature this season.
At the back Malky Mackay, recently called up to the Scotland squad for the first time, and Craig Fleming form a dependable central pairing that has appeared in each league game but one. Fullbacks should be one-time Watford target Marc Edworthy and former Peterborough man Adam Drury. Cover is provided by former Stockport man Keith Briggs at right back and by youngster Jason Shackell in the centre. Jim Brennan can play at left back, but has more frequently been employed further forward.
The dynamic Grant Holt is another ever present; he's just been called up to the Scottish squad for the first time in two years. Alongside him, Damien Francis is fulfilling the promise he showed earlier in his career at Wimbledon. Kevin Cooper has recently won a starting role, having arrived on loan from Wolves, whilst Northern Ireland international Paul McVeigh could play on the left should Worthington revoke from a bullish 4-3-3 to a more conventional 4-4-2 on Saturday. Backup in midfield is of decent pedigree, with Phil Mulryne, Mark Rivers, Brennan and former Hornet Clint Easton available to be called upon.
Up front, a trio of players that have arrived during the season have all settled in and are scoring freely. Of the three, the unpredictable Darren Huckerby has the highest profile; he's also the Canaries' leading scorer. Matthias Svensson's form hasn't been quite as dependable since his arrival from Charlton, but he's had a mental last month or so and hit six in the last five games to ignite hopes of a late push for the Swedish Euro 2004 squad. Finally, Leon McKenzie has arrived from Peterborough... his last appearance at Vicarage Road was five years ago to the day, and he scored as Crystal Palace were beaten on our way to the play-offs. Other attacking options include Iwan Roberts at one end of his career, and Ryan Jarvis, a scorer at Carrow Road in November, and Ian Henderson at the opposite end of theirs. Zema Abbey is Norwich's only current injury absentee with a knee complaint.
Norwich haven't won at the Vic in almost nine years, but they've rarely brought as strong or confident a side to Watford as this one. On the evidence of the last forty-five at Millwall, we could give them a bit of a game....