If Premier League managers ever have ‘perfect’ weekends, then I suspect City boss Chris Hughton has just had one.
Knocks to Michael Turner and Javier Garrido might have taken a little gloss off the proceedings, but otherwise Saturday’s 1-0 win over Stoke City – coupled to events both on Sunday and again last night – will have put a gentle grin on the Norwich manager’s face.
For me, the Stoke win was bigger than that over Arsenal.
The Gunners are fragile – ever more so after the exit of RVP. RIP Europe minus RVP. And twice last season Norwich ruffled their feathers; had them rocking both at home and away.
Mentally, Norwich were more than a match for their supposed North London peers. Twice they had played without fear – and been rewarded with both performances and results.
Mentally and physically out-muscling Stoke, however, was another matter. Saturday’s success was breaking new ground; demonstrating a new depth to Hughton’s squad; one that should bode very well for the winter slog ahead.
The arrival of Alexander Tettey in the heart of that Canary midfield has clearly played a big part in City’s recent turn in fortune; his partnership with Bradley Johnson looks, right now, to offer real promise.
Wesley can do the fancy stuff; fill the hole; be the link.
Tettey and Johnson will put big shifts in, week after week. Shore up the spaces in front of the back four, whilst equally offering the eye for a pass or for goal that can swiftly turn defence into attack.
Behind them teams still have to negotiate their way beyond first Sebastien Bassong and then John Ruddy; neither of whom are a soft touch at this level.
City have – in short – built themselves a decent platform off which you can launch a compelling campaign. One that, as events proved on Saturday, is now both physically and mentally robust.
So much for the Norfolk end of things.
Cast your eyes down the table and those famed ten games into any new season and people are where they are for a reason. And right now QPR, Reading and Southampton have more reason than most to fear the drop.
QPR and Reading’s inability to take three points off eachother was a big result for the teams scurrying away from the drop zone – Norwich very much included.
You want three clubs down there feeling lost and adrift. Had either team won, then the victor would have been just one more win away from digging themselves out of the bottom three and landing someone else in trouble.
A point apiece and the two remain two wins away from getting themselves out of the drop zone. And, in this league, that is a big, big ask.
It will certainly heap huge pressure on Reading this weekend as they entertain Norwich. The Royals have everything to lose if they can’t win a ‘must-win’ game in their eyes.
City, I suspect, quite enjoy their trips down the M4; it tends to bring out the more combative side of skipper Grant Holt. And on the basis of the last few weeks, they will travel to Reading with no fear.
Pull out even a draw and you are keeping the Royals stuck in that bottom three; still at least three points adrift of catching the Villas and the Sunderlands.
West Brom – the undoubted surprise package of the autumn – did everyone in this neighbourhood a further favour last night by victory over an increasingly desperate-looking Southampton. The manager, Nigel Adkins, finds himself firmly on the ropes; as always in such circumstances, having to justify his own position as much as that of his teams.
It is not a healthy position, for anyone. To have one eye always glancing over your shoulder; waiting for the chairman to ring.
But like QPR and Reading, Southampton are stuck fast in the mire right now; immediate salvation looks a distant prospect.
As for the rest of that little pack, Villa’s win at the Stadium Of Light will have eased the pressure on Lambert slightly; Sunderland look thoroughly punchless right now. January and the cheque book looks their best hope of avoiding a mucky end to the season.
And Stoke? Frankly, they looked all rather soulless and joyless; it wasn’t a particularly happy ship bobbling along on the Premier League waves that arrived on the banks of the Wensum this weekend.
Not compared to the good ship Canary, certainly. City have a new-found wind in their sails and as those earlier, angry grey clouds part, the prospect of some relatively plain sailing ahead.