Norwich City in need of a fast-acting cure for defensive headaches
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Such is Norwich City’s current defensive predicament, Ryan Bennett’s return from injury has almost assumed mythical proportions.
"City’s potency when they do fire in attack will continue to be undermined by an inability to keep clean sheets at the other end"
Bennett has played less than an hour of football this season after damaging his ankle seven minutes into the 1-0 Championship derby win at Ipswich in August. In his prolonged absence, Neil Adams has tried five other central defensive pairings and on the evidence of the last three league games Norwich look further away than ever from constructing a solid unit.
Bennett, it is fair to assume, would have had a regular run were it not for his injury suffered at Portman Road. Adams is clearly a big admirer of the elegant defender who has never quite stamped his authority on the position since a January 2012 move from Peterborough.
Further, two of those partnerships came in the club’s Capital One Cup sojourn which provided senior exposure for the likes of Kyle McFadden and Ignasi Miquel alongside the more experienced Carlos Cuellar. Nor should blame be apportioned squarely at the feet and head of City’s central defenders. Both full-back areas have produced plenty of cause for concern at various stages of this season right from the opening weekend and Martin Olsson’s aberration at Molineux and given the slew of recent concessions there are inevitable questions now being asked of John Ruddy.
But what that scale of player turnover indicates is Adams has yet to arrive at what he feels is his first choice back four on any given weekend, when injury or suspension do not intervene.
Those he has entrusted have not grasped the chance on a consistent basis. Adams, by and large, has tended to favour experience on Championship duty in the shape of Michael Turner, Russell Martin and Jos Hooiveld. Miquel arrived with a high class pedigree from Arsenal’s youth system and a loan stint last season at Leicester but the Spaniard awaits his league bow. Compatriot Cuellar started the league game against Nottingham Forest ahead of the last international break and was on the bench for the Brighton draw last weekend.
You could justifiably argue City’s midfield has experienced the same fluctuations, albeit injury claimed Jonny Howson early on and now Vadis Ofoe and Wes Hoolahan.
Only up front has the manager favoured continuity in the shape of Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban, when the clamour now, ironically, is for change and Gary Hooper to start. That elusive search for goals from City’s regular front two underline consistency in selection is no guarantee of success, but reliability and familiarity in central defence can only help not hinder Norwich’s cause.
Adams and his newly-appointed first team coach, Mike Phelan, need to make a definitive judgement on who they feel is Norwich’s best backline and spend what is now a lengthy period stretching well into the New Year with no midweek fixtures, to drill that understanding and organisational nous on the training pitches at Colney.
Adams retains the option to go back into the market in January but that is a notoriously difficult trading window when the majority of those who could make a difference to City’s fortunes will be an integral part elsewhere.
Yet the mounting goals against column would suggest the solid platform on which promotions are built is absent. City’s potency when they do fire in attack will continue to be undermined by an inability to keep clean sheets at the other end.