Norwich City’s promotion to the Premier League caps one of the club’s “greatest ever seasons”, says former Canaries striker Chris Sutton.
Daniel Farke’s side beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Carrow Road on Saturday to end their three-year absence from the top flight, and will be crowded champions by avoiding defeat at Aston Villa on the final day.
“To do it in the manner they’ve done it, the brand of football which Norwich have played, is amazingly staggering really,” Sutton told BBC Radio Norfolk.
“I’ve been pleasantly shocked. I thought at the start of the season Norwich had an outside chance of the play-offs.”
The Canaries finished 14th in 2017-18 and picked up just five points from their opening six Championship games this term, prompting some questions over Farke’s future.
“Some Norwich fans may tell you they predicted automatic promotion, but the truth of it is they were miles off at the start of the season,” said Sutton.
“The start of the season was tough but Daniel Farke stuck with the way he wanted his team to play and had belief in the players which he’d brought in.”
Since August, Norwich have lost just three times, rising to the top of the table and staying there when it mattered most.
“It’s more the style. The Championship is such a tough league – I normally associate teams coming up from the Championship with real grit and resolve. Two up top and quite direct.
“Norwich have been the absolute opposite, they’ve played some really good stuff.”
‘I got it wrong on Pukki’
Striker Teemu Pukki has been the key man in Norwich’s promotion push, leading the Championship’s goalscoring charts with 28 goals – the most any Norwich player has managed since Sutton himself scored 25 in 1993-94 to help the Canaries finish third in the Premier League.
But BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Sutton was not initially convinced about the signing of the ex-Celtic forward.
“I said ‘blimey, why have they signed Pukki?’ He had a nightmare up in Scotland.
“I saw a lot of him at Celtic, but fair play to him. I had it myself as a player – you go to a club and things don’t quite work out – but he’s been a revelation.
“It just shows you that there was a player in there, [but] I didn’t see him hitting the heights he has.”
The Finland international spent two seasons at Celtic Park, starting just 14 Premiership matches before moving on to Danish side Brondby.
“At Celtic at times he didn’t play as an out-and-out centre forward,” added Sutton. “At Norwich they use him that way and he has been the focal point, he has been so effective.
“I take my hat off to Teemu Pukki and say I got it wrong.”
Evolution, not revolution
Norwich have pulled off the achievement despite their parachute payments coming to an end following relegation from the Premier League in 2016, and selling Alex Pritchard, Josh Murphy and James Maddison for a combined fee of more than £40m.
Academy players Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and Todd Cantwell have helped plug the gap, but should the Canaries delve deeply into the transfer market this summer?
“I hope Norwich stick with, basically, what they’ve got and that there’s patience shown from the supporters,” said Sutton.
“The fact that Aarons and Lewis have come through the ranks – Godfrey, a development player and Cantwell as well, I hope Norwich stick with that.
“If things don’t go well next season and they come down I think it will be tough, but do it the right way – stick with what they’ve got.”
Sutton points towards Fulham, who spent more than £100m on 12 new players after reaching the top flight last summer, as a reason not to deviate too far from this season’s squad.
“We’ve seen what’s happened at Fulham this season, who went mad spending, and you can’t say the team weren’t backed by their chairman – they absolutely were,” he said.
“Nowadays you’re buying bang average players for £25m, that’s the truth of it – so I’ll be interested to see how Stuart Webber (sporting director) and Daniel Farke go about it in the transfer window.”