A STUNNING second hat-trick of the season from Simeon Jackson - including yet another last-gasp winner for the Canaries - gave City the spoils in a thrilling clash with Derby at Carrow Road.
Jackson headed the Canaries in front just before half-time, only for Derby to level through Steve Davies as the Rams stood toe to toe with City throughout an epic second half.
The Canadian striker netted his second of the game with a delicious chipped effort over Rams 'keeper Brad Jones to edge City back in front - but Alberto Bueno fired home a quality strike to once again haul the visitors back on to level terms.
It set up a nervous finale with news filtering through that Cardiff were on course to beat Preston and reclaim second spot if City could not find a winner.
But in the end perhaps Derby's one or two efforts to run the clock down were ill-advised as the referee duly allotted five minutes of injury time at the end of the match.
And in the fifth of those nerve-jangling minutes City struck the killer blow, Russell Martin's fierce drive only half-cleared by the desperate Rams defence and a gleeful Jackson bundling the loose ball home to send the Yellow Army into ecstasy.
Speaking after the dramatic game, City boss Paul Lambert said: "That was a terrific end to a really, really tough game - Derby have been playing very well of late.
"We got off to a great start and Simeon scores another cracking goal to get us into the lead, which we didn't hold onto but in the end as everybody knows it's been an incredible season."
He had every praise for yet another late show from his team, saying: "I think it's their desire and hunger to go and do it. They're a great group of lads to work with they really are, they've given me everything they could give me and the crowd I'm sure are living what is going on at this Football Club at the minute."
On yet another hat-trick for Simeon Jackson, he commented: "That one at the end might be one of his most important goals ever. I thought Simeon's general play was outstanding and the whole game I thought he was excellent."
Before the game Lambert named an unchanged starting 11 following last Thursday's superb 5-1 local derby triumph over Suffolk neighbours Ipswich. There was just one change on the bench as Chris Martin returned to the squad to replace Sam Vokes, recalled from his loan spell by Wolves last Friday.
With a cracking atmosphere as the game got underway there was early concern for the visitors in the third minute as Shaun Barker and Daniel Ayala clashed as they both attempted to head the ball and both required treatment before the game could continue.
Four minutes later a long ball from Whitbread was well controlled by Jackson, who made space for himself before firing over with an angled effort.
The Canaries were close to taking the lead on the quarter-hour when Crofts met Tierney's excellent cross with a diving header which Brad Jones could only palm out. Holt attempted to bundle home the rebound but he just couldn't apply the finishing touch under pressure from the Derby defence.
Jackson had another good effort three minutes later with a stinging drive Jones tipped over with a fine reaction save - and his bright start continued in the 24th minute as he forced Jones into another save with a looping header from Tierney's cross.
In the 36th minute Fox showed great technique to hit a first-time volley after Jackson chested down Hoolahan's pass - but unfortunately his effort flew straight into the arms of Jones.
Two minutes later Ayala received the game's first yellow card after he hauled Grant Holt to the pitch as the City skipper threatened to break free on the right.
There was some tension around the ground although the support from the Yellow Army was constant and passionate. And they got their reward in the 45th minute as Jackson's powerful header from Tierney's cross gave City the lead.
Half-time: Norwich City 1, Derby County 0
One goal was always going to be a slim lead and so it proved as Derby stunned Carrow Road by equalising in the 54th minute. Bueno hit a deep cross from the left and Davies was unmarked, finding the net with a looping header back across the helpless Ruddy.
In the 57th minute City made a change, Zak Whitbread leaving the field to be replaced by Rob Edwards.
Derby were level for just six minutes however as Jackson fired the Canaries back in front with an exquisite chip over Jones from the edge of the area after Holt had teed him up.
But the celebrations were short-lived unfortunately, Bueno levelling within three minutes with a low drive which arrowed into the bottom corner past the diving figure of Ruddy.
Lambert made his final two substitutions in the minutes that followed, Lansbury and Pacheco entering the fray in place of Fox and Surman respectively.
In the 73rd minute City were a whisker away from grabbing a third when a great 30-yard drive from Lansbury was tipped wide at full stretch by Jones.
A couple of minutes later the home fans were incensed as Rams skipper Robbie Savage cynically pulled back Pacheco as the Spaniard threatened to sprint into space on the right - Savage rightly booked for the incident.
As the pressure mounted and the minutes ticked away, it looked as if City were on course to drop two points - and slip back to third in the table, with Cardiff holding on for a 1-0 win at Deepdale to relegate Preston North End.
But we've all read the Carrow Road script - you write off this Norwich side at your peril. And sure enough, deep into five minutes of injury time, Simeon Jackson produced a roar which will have reverberated across Norfolk as he bundled home a priceless winner for the Canaries.
The celebrations around the ground will live long in the memory after Russell Martin's shot sparked chaos in the Derby six-yard box and Jackson managed to guide the ball into the net with his midriff.
Final score: Norwich City 3, Derby County 2