Familiar faces rather than new signings hold greater value for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's movements in the remaining days of this transfer window may attract more attention but the welcome sight of both Anthony Pilkington and Alex Tettey against Hull City will have a bigger bearing on the club's Premier League fortunes.
Wes Hoolahan's future continues to dominate the headlines but Pilkington's late cameo against the Tigers and Tettey's watching brief underlined City's injury problems are starting to ease. That by itself is not an excuse for the fitful nature of the Canaries' efforts in recent months but it is clearly a mitigating factor in a season that feels like it is still waiting to ignite despite passing the half-way stage over the festive period.
Pilkington has made five Premier League starts, Tettey just two more, when both would justifiably have expected to exert a greater influence.
Chris Hughton made it clear at the start of his second tour of duty in Norfolk he viewed Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass as his established pairing in wide midfield areas. Nathan Redmond's summer arrival, along with signs towards the end of last season Elliott Bennett was capable of leaving a genuine imprint on top flight games, indicated that was the strongest, most competitive area of Hughton's squad ahead of the league opener against Everton.
Bennett's knee ligament injury, suffered in that 2-2 draw against the Toffees, and intermittent absences to both Snodgrass and Pilkington forced Hughton to change course. Redmond found himself fast-tracked into the starting line up; Josh Murphy was exposed to the vagaries of Premier League football far earlier than he or his manager would have envisaged.
But a fit and fresh Pilkington is a major asset for the second, defining phase of the campaign. The Republic of Ireland international is an intelligent, technically-proficient footballer who fits the Hughton methodology of a wide player equally comfortable offering defensive cover as he is looking to engage full-backs in more menacing areas of the pitch.
Tettey's prolonged period on the sidelines after undergoing ankle surgery following October's fractious 0-0 league draw against Cardiff has proven an even bigger blow - not simply on a personal level but the wider impact to Hughton's strategy.
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The Norwegian international looked to have re-captured the form that had marked him out as a fantastic addition at the start of last season before, by his own admission, the gruelling nature of English football checked such early progress.
Tettey's deployment in a screening role at Stoke in late September was the catalyst to that first away win in the Potteries for many a year.
Hughton is lazily accused by his detractors of being cautiously inflexible, but Tettey's presence freed Jonny Howson and Leroy Fer to roam further forward and add ballast to Norwich's vibrant attacking motions at the Britannia.
The experiment last barely four games before he was clumsily trampled on by Fraizer Campbell. City may have lost to both Chelsea and Arsenal during that spell but the Canaries pushed Jose Mourinho's men all the way at Carrow Road and only succumbed to a ferocious late battery at the Emirates. All four matches were notable for a reassuring degree of control to Norwich's play that has been singularly absent for much of the Canaries' subsequent efforts during the intervening period. Far too often Hughton's sides have offered little sustained threat at places like Newcastle or Everton. West Brom and Sunderland brought points and battling displays but in both instances it was the hosts who dictated the tempo and the flow.
One can cautiously predict Howson will be the next to return after nursing his back complaint for the past month as Hughton continues to strive for those formulas which have proved elusive for these critical upcoming league tests.
But there is no question the returns of men like Pilkington, Tettey and Howson feel like fresh additions irrespective of any business the Canaries' look to conclude in the final, frenetic days of this January trading window.