For obvious reasons, I’d anticipated giving the Carabao Cup only a light touch on the pages of MyFootballWriter this season but then they go and win two games. Both away, both tricky, both against Championship opponents.
How can we ignore that?
By Norwich City standards, this is a proper cup run.
We don’t expect to win it – Man City probably will – but nothing bad comes from a run in either of the cups in the same way nothing bad can come from getting in the habit of winning football matches.
And somehow, from somewhere, it’s threatening to become one – a habit that is.
The transformation has been nothing short of astounding, even if does eventually go south. Unbeaten runs must end sometime. But this iteration of Norwich City bears not even the slightest resemblance to the one we were forced to endure at the back end of last season.
Nothing is the same. Not a single element of the Class of 2023 remains even if some of the personnel do.
David Wagner has more than justified the calls for patience and has managed to successfully extricate himself from the undignified muddle that was season 2022-23.
With the benefit of hindsight, it feels as if we underestimated the damage done by Dean Smith and Craig Shakespeare, and that Wagner had no option but to hold his nose and just do the best he could with a squad that was the complete antithesis of the type he desired.
Not just physically, although looking back it’s clear they were not even close to having the energy and zip that a Wagner team needs, but also they were fatigued of the mind. The thinking was muddled and confused, and the joie de vivre was non-existent.
Now they are visibly enjoying their football just as much as we’re enjoying watching them play. It’s infectious.
There were some easy wins to be had for Wagner, which he duly delivered, but there have been some intangibles that none of us could have foreseen.
When I say easy wins, I don’t mean they were easy easy, but virtually all of us agreed that to turn a group that was, at best, lily-livered into one with some cajones, there needed to be big characters added to the group – no-nonsense types who wouldn’t tolerate anyone operating at 99 percent and who have no time for bowed heads and drooped shoulders.
Enter Ashley Barnes and Shaun Duffy.
Unspectacular, yes, but Stuart Webber and Wagner knew what they would bring and how important their influence would be, both on the pitch and in the dressing room.
You could argue that Jack Stacey and Christian Fassnacht offer something similar. While neither is as demonstrative as the two older heads, both are calming and steadying influences to those around them and fall very much into the ‘been there, done it’ category.
But it’s the intangibles that have made this start to the season so thrilling and unexpected.
Przemyslaw Placheta unexpectedly stepping up and pushing himself to the forefront of his head coach’s thinking is something none of us saw coming, along with Dimi Giannoulis transforming consistently into the player of whom we’ve seen only glimpses.
And last night, handed the left-back stripes for the night, Sam McCallum stepped into those same boots and delivered, chipping in with a vital assist along the way.
But there’s even more.
The way the goals are collectively celebrated and the way they appear to celebrate each other’s successes as much as their own. Small but vital changes. And a sea change from the niggly, tetchy, and dispirited group we watched just four months ago.
As ever, the caveat. We’ve still played but six games and plenty of teams get off to fliers before thudding into the buffers, but right now this looks and feels good.
Of course, the bad news comes in the form of a prolonged absence for poor Josh Sargent – another who appears a different player in this new-look side.
While it offers an opportunity for the also-rejuvenated Adam Idah, it does leave us exposed in the striking department and just an injury to either Barnes or Idah away from needing a major re-shuffle. Let’s just hope the straight bat played by Wagner to any suggestion of making a late bid for striker reinforcements is merely him publicly showing faith in his current group.
Let’s hope we get to see Sarge again in 2023 but I have my doubts. That, however, is football and we mustn’t allow one setback to impinge on what has been a thrilling August.
Let’s enjoy it and ignore those who deem us unworthy of some good form and who claim we have ‘no right’ to be this good.