Norwich City are back in the Premier League after turning in a scintillating display to beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Carrow Road.
The Canaries knew they had one foot in the top flight before the game, but made absolutely sure by turning on the style and recording a win that should have been a far more comprehensive one.
Goals from Marco Stiepermann and Mario Vrancic put Daniel Farke’s side 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, only for Lewis Travis to pull one back immediately for the visitors.
That was how it stayed, despite chance after chance for the home side – but it mattered not a jot as Norwich claimed the three points that left them in pole position to clinch the Championship title ahead of Sheffield United at Aston Villa next weekend.
Delighted Norwich manager Daniel Farke told Sky Sports: “It’s a moment full of happiness and pride. This feeling is amazing. We’ve achieved something really extraordinary.
“For me the Championship is the toughest league in the world. Each and every game is pretty close so to come out in the top two teams you deserve it.”
And Canaries top scorer Teemu Pukki added: “It means a lot. I think we’ve been the best team this season and we just need to finish it as number one. Of course we want to finish with a victory.
“We’ll celebrate now for a couple of days and then we’ll start focusing on the next game (at Aston Villa next Sunday).”
Norwich, who only needed a point to confirm a return to the top flight after a three-year absence, dominated a pulsating opening period and should have had promotion wrapped up at the break.
Playing the attractive brand of passing football that has been their hallmark all season, the Canaries created numerous chances, but only took two of them and let Rovers back in it almost immediately after making it 2-0.
It was one-way traffic from the word go and Onel Hernandez fired a low shot just wide after eight minutes before dithering too long after being put in by Buendia five minutes later.
But a packed home crowd only had seconds to wait for the opener. The ball was not properly cleared and broke nicely on the edge of the box for Stiepermann who drilled a low shot past Jayson Leutwiler for his second opening goal in successive home games.
Top scorer Pukki and Buendia both went close to stretching the lead before a controversial moment when Darragh Lenihan was only shown a yellow card by referee Andrew Madley after bringing down Pukki as the Finnish frontman bore down on goal.
Leutwiler then made superb point-blank saves to deny first Hernandez and then Pukki, but again Blackburn couldn’t clear their lines and Vrancic was able to take aim before arrowing a magnificent 25-yard shot into the top corner to make it 2-0.
Norwich looked in complete command at that point, but Rovers quickly dampened the party mood by pulling one back from their first effort on goal. Amari’i Bell worked himself some space on the left and did well to pick unmarked Travis on the edge of the box and the midfielder coolly curled the ball beyond Tim Krul’s grasp to get his side back in it.
Normal service was soon resumed, however, with Leutwiler thwarting Pukki after he looked sure to score from a Stiepermann cutback and Hernandez sending a low shot inches wide of the far post.
The Blackburn keeper made a world class save to keep out Buendia’s audacious overhead kick from just outside the six-yard box after a scramble following a corner, while Hernandez was desperately unlucky when his right foot piledriver hit the angle of post and bar, with the overworked Leutwiler a mere spectator on this occasion.
All Rovers had to offer was a Bradley Dack free-kick from a dangerous position that sailed way over and Norwich twice went close to stretching their advantage in the 74th minute as first Hernandez was crowded out after bursting clean through, and then Stiepermann was denied by the latest top drawer save from Leutwiler when his shot looked destined for the bottom corner.
NOTE: Due to print deadlines, The FLP was unable to supply a match report and reaction to Norwich City’s win over Blackburn Rovers and promotion to the Premier League in Sunday’s edition.