Connor Southwell delivers his Preston North End verdict after Norwich City’s massive 1-0 Championship victory. 


It was a game that Norwich City knew they couldn't afford to lose. They did better than that - they only went and won it. 

The situation is clear - with three games remaining, they have a six-point cushion over seventh-placed Hull, who have a game in hand. It is a monumental victory on the road when they have been difficult to come by throughout the campaign. 

Preston were not lacking in motivation. They smelt blood, knowing only a win would do to fully ignite their play-off hopes. 

Ryan Lowe was not backwards in coming forwards in midweek, describing this clash as the biggest of his two-and-a-half-year tenure at Deepdale. Flags were distributed in the Tom Finney Stand. A banner read 'This is our City. This is our Land.' Gabby Sara had something to say about that. 

Preston's desire was reflected in a first-half performance that saw them approach it with blood and thunder. Alan Browne and Robbie Brady's set-piece deliveries asked real questions of the City backline, with Jack Whatmough hitting the bar just before the interval. 

Norwich were reduced to efforts from distance in the opening period, with Sara and Borja Sainz both making Freddie Woodman work. Their attacking work appeared disjointed and lacking the cohesion that has been on display in recent weeks. 

Even then, Angus Gunn didn't have a serious stop to make. Beyond some panic from defending set-pieces, the control their performance exuded was impressive in the circumstances. 

In a tight, cagey contest, it was going to be either a mistake or a moment of magic to win it. Step forward a certain Brazilian. 

That is what he does. Sara, who has been on a charge of his own in recent weeks, produced the moment to record victory. The reaction from the away end was telling—they are now so close to securing their top six spot that they can smell it.

2 - Doubters to believers

It is a famous phrase uttered by Jurgen Klopp during the early period of his reign at Liverpool—David Wagner has now repeated it in the wake of their Deepdale triumph. 

This has been a campaign with significant turbulence. It looked in danger of crashing after an autumn run of seven defeats in nine Championship matches amid injuries to key players. 

Wagner has had to face down his own critics and ride waves of criticism even during the good bursts of form. This is a personal victory for him. That motivation to prove people wrong burning like a furnace. 

Now, they have taken one step closer to adding an extra chapter to a story that shows little sign of slowing down. Norwich have momentum. They are in form. For once, it feels like they are united. 

Results elsewhere have shown the importance of their consistency since the international break. A defeat for Coventry leaves them eight points behind Norwich, and Middlesbrough's draw at Ipswich has done little for their prospects of chasing. 

Hull are now the nearest challengers. Norwich have a six-point game to them, albeit Liam Rosenior's side have a game in hand. The seven points picked up this week, even with the frustration that surrounded their midweek setback against Sheffield Wednesday, has pushed them to the brink. 

Even West Brom's defeat to Sunderland has brought them back into Norwich's sights. This is a massive result in what could prove to be a defining weekend for the Canaries. 

The 1,500 or so in the away end believe. The squad believe. Now they need to finish the job - with two matches at Carrow Road to come, they have a golden opportunity to secure their spot at a shot at glory. The story they are writing, you wouldn't bet against them. 

3 - Reporting for duty 

It was the question dominating the pre-match discourse - would Josh Sargent be sufficiently fit to play a role in a monumentally big contest? The sight of him gracing the Deepdale turf will have been met with relief by everyone of a yellow and green persuasion.

Only David Wagner will know how real the threat of him missing this contest truly was, but it underpins the importance of managing his minutes given the stark contrast between Norwich's fortunes with and without him. 

Fifteen goals in 23 Championship matches is the headline, but Sargent's contributions extend beyond his ruthlessness in front of goal. It's his relentless running in behind, his ability to impact all phases of play and relationship with the exciting attacking talent around him. 

That is why Norwich continue to take risks with their number nine. They cannot afford to be without him right now. 

In an interview in the US this week, Sargent reiterated how his Norwich career has been transformed by Wagner restoring him to his more favoured central position. 

Sargent was uncharacteristically quiet - but engineered a golden opportunity after Sainz's blocked shot in the second half. He was unable to find the bottom corner despite how prolific he has been from those situations. 

Norwich will need him for the bigger occasions to come, providing they get there, the management of his situation is a priority. Securing a top six finish would allow them to be more selective with his minutes. 

4 - The X Factor 

After weeks of frustration and increasing tension from David Wagner over the injury concerns surrounding his group, the sight of Jon Rowe in a matchday squad for the first time since February came as a welcome surprise. 

David Wagner pulled the rabbit of the hat after playing down suggestions the winger could feature at Deepdale, instead pointing towards next weekend's home clash against Bristol City as the most likely return date. 

Given Liam Gibbs' season-ending injury and Christian Fassnacht's omission owing to the imminent arrival of a newborn baby, it came as a much-needed boost to see Rowe return. 

It took until 73 minutes for Wagner to opt to throw Rowe onto the occasion with the job of producing the goods as he has consistently throughout the course of a debut campaign. The adulation that greeted his re-emergence was a sign of his popularity on the terraces.

His first involvement was to stretch Preston's backline and force a corner - that energy was lacking prior to his introduction. 

Rowe's energy, positivity and fearlessness asked questions of a tiring Preston defence. His defensive work was just as noteworthy. It was the cameo of a man who was desperate to return. 

He is a young man who has written his own scripts this season - be it a top corner strike on his first-team introduction against Hull on the opening day, the brace at Portman Road that protected City's unbeaten derby record or the piece of individual brilliance that allowed Norwich to edge a victory at the MKM Stadium in January, headlines have followed his every move. 

With Norwich setting up the Championship campaign for a grandstand finish, it feels inevitable that Rowe will sprinkle his magic onto the remaining games. The bigger the stage, the broader his shoulders. 

Norwich will be hoping he has one final story to star in.