Delia Smith hugged Paul Lambert on the touchline and thousands of fans in yellow and green cavorted on the Fratton Park pitch to salute Norwich City's return to the Premier League last night. The team's fourth successive victory, following Cardiff City's 3-0 implosion at home to Middlesbrough earlier in the evening, sealed back-to-back promotions for Lambert's team.
Norwich have been out of the top flight for six seasons, which included a drop into League One, a demotion that lasted only a single campaign thanks to the appointment as manager of Lambert in August 2009. As Colchester United manager the former Scotland midfield player had just masterminded a 7-1 opening-day home defeat for City, and no one present that day, including Smith, the co-owner, or Lambert, would have believed this season's triumph.
"I am wondering whether I will wake up in the morning and all this has not happened," Smith said. "What an amazing two years we have had. After relegation and now two successive promotions. Paul Lambert has done a terrific job. I think he is the tops. A brilliant manager."
Lambert, in turn, praised Smith, Michael Wynn-Jones, her husband and joint majority shareholder, and Michael Foulger, the vice chairman. Together they have invested around £15m to reduce the club's debts to around £20m, which makes the the estimated £60m that a Premier League place is said to be worth especially welcome.
"I'm thrilled for those three, because they have seen the bad times," Lambert said: "It's incredible what the lads have done. It's a miracle, the magnitude of it. It's how we've done it, going from League One to the Championship and up again. The main objective [this season] was just to survive because we'd just come up and because of the state of the finances. Hopefully this will give the club financial backing. It wasn't that long ago that the chairman was indicating that there very nearly wasn't going to be a Norwich City."
Simeon Jackson's 13th goal of a memorable season secured a deserved win against a Portsmouth team who were without a win in seven matches, and bottom of the division's current form table over the same period. This time last year Portsmouth were looking forward to the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley – something of a contrast with Saturday's visit to Scunthorpe – but even with nothing to play for last night they were clearly in no mood to give Norwich an easy passage into the Premier League, launching into a series of muscular challenges on the visiting forwards.
Norwich, though, stood up to the physical intimidation and never looked likely to collapse as Cardiff had done, and they had two excellent chances to take a first-half lead. However, Zak Whitbread put an unchallenged header wide and Grant Holt could not apply the final touch after flicking the ball past Aaron Mokoena and Jamie Ashdown, the Portsmouth goalkeeper.
But after four minutes of the second half, Norwich made the breakthrough they craved as Jackson dived to head home David Fox's curling cross from the right in front of the delirious fans from Norfolk. It was Jackson's ninth goal in seven games, and could even give his team the title if an FA panel imposes a points deduction on division leaders Queen's Park Rangers later this week for a breach of rules on third-party ownership related to Alejandro Faurlin, their midfield player.
"QPR's situation has never bothered me because I don't know the ins and outs," Lambert said. "But I'd rather have a trophy.".
Portsmouth (4-3-3): Ashdown; De Laet, Halford, Mokoena, Hreidarsson; Mullins; Ward, Mullins, Dickinson (Lawrence, 68); Ward (Cotterill, 81), Nugent, Kanu. Substitutes not used Flahavan (gk), Webber, Ciftci.
Norwich City (4-1-3-2): Ruddy; Martin, Whitbread, Ward, Tierney; Fox (Lansbury, 77); Crofts, Hoolahan, Surman; Holt, Jackson. Substitutes not used: Rudd (gk), Edwards, Martin, Lappin, McNamee, Pacheco.
Referee A d'Urso (Essex).