December 8 2013 Latest news:
Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Monday, August 12, 2013
The worrying sight of Gary Hooper departing the scene on a stretcher was the abiding image of Norwich City’s pre-season finale against Panathinaikos.
Bradley Johnson’s rare headed double sunk a Greek outfit who even in such relaxed surroundings appear a club in transition after missing out on European football for the first time since 1997. Hooper’s early second half exit with a suspected shin injury took the gloss off another encouraging step on the road to the real business and Everton’s Premier League opening day visit.
Chris Hughton was upbeat in the immediate aftermath despite Hooper’s precautionary hospital visit, but the City chief was denied a final chance to see whether his expensively-acquired strikers could potentially operate in tandem against the Toffees.
Bar an extended second half stint against Braga, Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel have barely spent time on the same pitch, yet there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest Hooper may have the ability and the raw athleticism to support van Wolfswinkel in that lone front-running role which Hughton settled on during his debut season.
The former Celtic striker offered a mobile target in the opening period and but for an inopportune loss of balance followed by a later stumble may well have added to Johnson’s fourth-minute opener after City had cut the visitors open down either flank.
Hughton’s substitutes’ bench contained just as many clues as his starting line up. Jonny Howson was kept in reserve after a pre-season period that offered fresh evidence the creative midfielder can be harnessed with Hughton’s solid team shape.
Nathan Redmond made a belated entrance but with Anthony Pilkington ruled out for the Premier League curtain-raiser the teenager’s body of work this summer must leave him well-placed to fill the void. Martin Olsson underlined his versatility before Redmond’s arrival in a more advanced role ahead of Javier Garrido, but the Swede had looked a far more effective attacking weapon raiding from deep in partnership with Redmond against Real Sociedad four days earlier.
Sebastien Bassong’s late fitness bid to face Everton is the one real imponderable in a defensive unit that was only fitfully tested by continental opposition. Thanisis Ntinas contrived to head against the post from barely four yards in the opening period but it was a sporadic incursion from Pana.
Hughton reiterated afterwards Bassong is far too important to risk against Everton if there is any danger of a relapse at the start of such an arduous campaign. The versatility of both Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin lessens the need for the City boss to gamble with his new team captain.
John Ruddy’s reassuring presence in a largely untroubled shift was another plus. The England international’s thigh injury against his former club last season carried the potential to disrupt City’s survival bid.
Hughton will hope for good news on Hooper this week and a clean bill of health from his international contingent to ensure that is not the dominant theme once again on Saturday when his new-look squad bid to signal their intent against the Toffees.
Chris Hughton admitted Norwich’s soft centre again contributed to their downfall as Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool to a 5-1 Premier League win on Wednesday night at Anfield.