Norwich City have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United this season and are currently on the same amount of points as Liverpool. They haven’t so much snuck up on the Premier League’s big boys as gatecrashed their party entirely.
It wasn’t always like this of course. There was genuine concern in Norfolk at the end of September and beginning of October when Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard cut Chris Hughton’s side apart as Liverpool and Chelsea beat them 5-2 and 4-1 respectively.
They were results which left the Canaries second to bottom of the Premier League with three points from seven matches, still winless and still licking their wounds from a 5-0 loss at Fulham on the opening day. A long, uncomfortable campaign beckoned for Hughton in his first season in the Carrow Road hotseat.
Yet the transformation since then has been nothing short of remarkable.
It started with the home win over Arsenal in mid-October, finally a first three points of the campaign and what looked a pretty decent platform to build upon. It’s proved to be the most solid.
The victory over the Gunners was the start of an eight-match unbeaten league run – nine if you count the Capital One Cup win over Tottenham – which has seen the Canaries concede only four goals. As QPR and Reading – their partners in the relegation zone in those uncomfortable early weeks – have failed to escape the bottom three, Norwich have soared up the table with the talk in Norfolk now concerning just whether Hughton can deliver a top half finish.
The most memorable of those eight unbeaten games surely came against Manchester United last month, when Anthony Pilkington’s winner underlined the quality within a squad which has largely been drawn from players in the lower leagues.
Pilkington, Bradley Johnson, Robert Snodgrass, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt have all served their apprenticeships away from the limelight – literally in the case of Holt who had spells at Workington, Halifax, Barrow and Singaporean club Sengkang Marine during his early years as a footballer, years in which he subsidised his income by working in a factory.
It’s been a long road to the top for him and for Norwich, who often impressed under Paul Lambert last season of course as their back-to-back promotions were topped off with a campaign which never saw them in serious relegation trouble.
Yet when Lambert went to Aston Villa there were concerns that Hughton would struggle with what is still largely the Scot’s team, with those concerns playing out on the pitch in the opening months of the season.
Things still aren’t perfect of course. The win over Sunderland on Sunday was only the second time all season after that Liverpool loss that the Canaries had scored two goals in a league game, whilst they are still to record a win away from home – something that they’ll be looking to put right at Swansea on Saturday.
It is their fine home form which is driving things forward at the moment though, with that Sunderland win opening up a seven point gap between them and the relegation zone. More importantly, there are only seven points between them and third-placed Chelsea.
Such heights might have to remain in the ‘dizzying’ category for some time of course, but there is no sense that Norwich are trying to run before they can walk as their impressive campaign continues.
Just where it will take them remains to be seen, but you get the sense that the club’s fans are more than happy to just enjoy the ride at the moment. Relegation fears shouldn’t be completely dismissed just yet, but they can surely be forgotten about over the busy Christmas period.
Their last two fixtures of a 2012 which has shown that they are not afraid of the big boys are at home to Chelsea and Manchester City.
The pair have been warned.