Perennially discounted as promotion material, Barnsley usually confound these predictions and this season looks likely to conform to type. Last night they closed up on the top three with a comprehensive win against the team immediately above them.
After an interesting, but goalless, first half Barnsley grabbed hold with three goals in 15 minutes from Adrian Moses, Paul Wilkinson and John Hendrie. As a consequence, by the time Rob Newman scored for the visitors, the victory had effectively been sealed.
It does not take a degree in mathematics to work out why Barnsley were not pushing Bolton harder at the top of the table. They might have come into the night with an unbeaten record of seven games, but that statistic masked a mass of missed opportunities as six of those ended in draws.
Missed was an apposite word as Wilkinson let an absolute sitter go by after three minutes, heading wide from Hendrie's cross, and there seemed to be an inevitability that the scoreline would end 0-0 as chances went begging at both ends.
Certainly there seemed to be no danger when Darren Sheridan's 55th-minute free kick went to the near post when the bigger men were further back. But Hendrie's flick found Moses and with a huge, agricultural swing of his right leg the ball shot into the top corner of the net.
The dam had been breached and Barnsley poured through. Six minutes later Wilkinson made it 2-0, sliding the ball in between three defenders on the line after Hendrie's shot had been parried by Bryan Gunn, then Hendrie put the match beyond doubt, profiting from Darryl Sutch's error to dispatch the ball into the far corner from the left-hand edge of the area.
Norwich, whose elegant passing lacked proper penetration, finally made something of their delightful approach play when Newman got their goal after 72 minutes, shooting in from the penalty spot after Andy Johnson's shot had been blocked.
The East Anglian side have now taken just four points from their last five matches, so maybe their manager Mike Walker's estimate that a position in the top half of the table at the end of the season will be an achievement is realistic after all. Barnsley, for all their unfashionable status, last night looked a better bet.
Barnsley (5-3-2): Watson; Eaden, Moses, Appleby, De Zeeuw, Jones; Hendrie (Bosancic, 78), Redfearn, Sheridan; Liddell, Wilkinson. Substitutes not used: Bullock, Marcelle.
Norwich City (4-5-1): Gunn; Sutch, Newman, Polston, Mills; Adams, Johnson (Bradshaw, 82), Crook (Forbes, 67), Milligan, Eadie; Fleck. Substitute not used: Scott.
Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).