Alex Ward on a scintillating display away at in-form Swansea City as Hughton’s men again defy the pundits…
Saturday`s clash had been touted as one of the must-see encounters of the weekend`s action, as the two hottest form teams outside Manchester looked to cement themselves firmly in the mid-table ahead of the festive period.
Swansea approached the game riding atop a crest of remarkable form, fresh off the back of a 2-0 smash and grab at the Emirates and with just one defeat in their previous 10 outings. Boasting the league`s highest goal-to-shot ratio, Laudrup`s men had only lost one home game all term; a sensational spell that saw ten-goal signing Michu quickly establish himself as prime candidate for buy-of-the-season.
Meanwhile, Norwich`s purple patch had extended to nine games undefeated since undoing Wenger`s Arsenal in late October. However, despite claiming the scalps of Manchester United, Stoke and Sunderland at home, Hughton`s men had come up short on the road, scoring only five league goals and failing to return home with full spoils.
Approaching kick-off, a sense of trepidation loomed among the travelling fans, with stalwarts Alex Tettey and Ryan Bennett side-lined through fatigue and injury respectively.
But nevertheless, Norwich started brightly, testing the Swansea defence from the off. Despite the loss of Tettey, Jonny Howson assertively seized a rare starting opportunity, as his 25-yard strike pinged off the base of Swansea post.
Norwich stifled Swansea`s possession game, congesting the midfield and preventing their opponents from finding their rhythm in the opening stages.
With Swansea increasingly careless in possession, a Canaries` counter-attack stunned the home fans as Stephen Whittaker found the back of the net after some clever link-up play with fellow Scotsman Robert Snodgrass.
After an ensuing period of anaemic Swansea possession, defensive linchpin Sebastien Bassong powered in Norwich`s second after a looping cross from skipper Grant Holt – his 3rd goal in 4 appearances.
Mere minutes later, Holt silenced the jeering home support as he met a sweeping Snodgrass free-kick to send the Canaries soaring into the interval three goals to the good.
Predictably, the Swans hit back with full-force after the break; netting two quick-fire goals from the magnificent Michu and fellow summer-signing Jonathan de Guzman.
The pendulum had swung, and as the deafening voice of the home support reaching fever-pitch, so too did Norwich`s troubles, with Nathan Dyer, Ki Sung-Yueng and Wayne Routledge all linking well with Michu to pile the pressure on the Norwich defensive corps.
Much like spells of last week`s second half against Sunderland, Norwich looked disconsolate in parts as the prospect of that elusive away win threatened to come apart at the seams.
Nonetheless, Hughton`s men absorbed the onslaught with a number of huge defensive shifts to keep the Swans at bay. With a bit of lady luck on-hand to deny Swansea a 71st minute equaliser after a foul on Mark Bunn, a rare away-victory crept tantalisingly into view.
And after a dazzling free-kick from Robert Snodgrass extended the lead to 4-2, Michu`s 90th minute header was rendered purely academic. As the ball nestled in the bottom corner, Snodgrass became the only premier league player score and claim 2 or more assists in a game this season – a man-of-the-match performance, no doubt.
As the final whistle rang out across the Liberty Stadium, Norwich had claimed a watershed victory, beating one of premiership`s high-flyers away from home to claim Hughton`s maiden away-win. Prior to the game, pundits had roundly tipped Swansea to claim the points, and Norwich responded with a firm declaration of intent.
By doubling their previous scoring best of two goals in a single game, Norwich may have rediscovered the offensive prowess that underpinned their ascendancy under Lambert. What`s more, three of the four goals came from Hughton`s summer signings, making the January transfer period all the more mouth-watering.
The triumph leaves Norwich in fine stead to secure a seat on the TV-deal gravy train as Hughton`s men widened the gulf between themselves and the relegation mire to nine points.
Nine games unbeaten with 19 points from a possible 27: such form will only make upcoming bouts against a defensively hamstrung Wigan and a stuttering West Brom all the more profitable.
As a team consistently out to defy expectations, Norwich are flying. Just how high they will perch remains a delectable mystery.