May 4th was circled in red ink by Norwich City fans from the moment the fixture list was published back in June, but little did they know then that by the time Paul Lambert returned with Aston Villa both teams would be deep in the relegation mire.
As if the prospect of Lambert returning to the club where he won successive promotions from League One but left so acrimoniously was not enough to mark this out as one to watch this weekend, the precarious position both teams find themselves in makes it not only a grudge encounter, but a hugely important one.
Neither side are relegation certainties by any means, and it has to be said that Wigan, five points adrift of safety, have it all to do, especially with the complication of the FA Cup final to consider. But both Norwich and Villa are far too close to the drop zone for comfort, and the loser of this match is going to endure a nail-biting final two weeks.
Villa are five clear of Wigan and Norwich six but, having played a game more, the picture could look a whole lot different come 5pm on Saturday if the Latics get a result at West Brom, and neither side can afford to lose here if that is the case.
Unfortunately for Norwich, I do think there will be a loser and I think it will be Chris Hughton’s side. By my reckoning, Villa look big at 19/10 to all but secure their Premier League survival, and that is my play over the 7/5 on a home win and the 11/5 about the draw.
Of course, Lambert has actually been back before with Villa in the League Cup quarter-final, and that 4-1 win for his new club over his old one back in December shows that, on their day, this young Villans side have the makings of a decent Premier League team.
You only have to see how they blew Sunderland away in the 6-1 win on Monday to see that they are able to reach heights way beyond what Norwich are capable of, and they have the power to outscore a Canaries side that is chronically shot-shy.
Only QPR and Stoke have scored fewer goals than Norwich’s 33, and their total of 20 home goals is the third worst tally in the division.
And the Canaries’ form has been dreadful for some time. Hughton’s side have won just two of their last 18 league matches – nearly half a season – and that doesn’t include the embarrassing FA Cup defeat at home to non-league Luton Town.
Their defence is beginning to let them down, too, and with just one clean sheet in their last nine games, you can imagine that a Villa side who have hit 16 goals in their last seven games will be licking their lips.
Four of those seven games have ended in victory for Villa, and wins away at Stoke and Reading in high-pressure relegation battles show that they have previous for winning when the stakes are high against teams around them (they also beat QPR in that sequence).
And with Hughton sure to preach caution – that seems to be his management style – I think Villa’s sense of adventure can trump the anaemic home side and at 19/10, Villa can make it a happy return for Lambert.