Mark Bunn is a proven Norwich City performer
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Not for the first time Mark Bunn underlined his value to Norwich City's cause against Southampton.
The 28-year-old's full Premier League debut for the Canaries came in the corresponding 1-1 draw at St Mary's in late November.
If memory serves, just an hour or so after John Ruddy had used his personal Twitter account to drop the bombshell he required thigh surgery on the leg injured at Goodison Park the previous weekend that would keep him out for months.
Bunn's collective body of work during the intervening period has been the single biggest factor in cushioning the serious blow of the lay-off to Norwich's England keeper
Without wishing to over-dramatise the moment, there was a palpable sense of widespread concern from media and supporters alike which greeted Ruddy's news on the south coast – a genuine feeling that the St Ives' man's prolonged absence could have a major destabilising effect on Norwich's ability to survive in the Premier League.
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Ruddy's influence and commanding presence had been key factors in the Championship promotion season and the club's first stab at top flight consolidation. How City coped without their undisputed number one would define whether second time around would prove just as sweet.
Norwich still have to get over the line, but they are in a robust position in the standings – one perhaps many feared was beyond them with Ruddy on the sidelines.
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Bunn would be the first to admit he has benefited from a consistency of selection in front of him with Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner underlining their top flight credentials, and Hughton's decision to settle on a style of play which afforded the backline an extra layer of protection in the shape of two defensive midfielders.
That said, the former Blackburn man has more than played his part on a personal level to help ease Norwich nine points clear of danger with nine games left.
Bunn was never seriously tested on his full bow at St Mary's; he has been routinely since. Stepping in for Ruddy has been a trial not only of his natural talent but his temperament. When City have shipped goals, like against Manchester City and Liverpool in the league or Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup, Bunn has found himself subjected to stern analysis. That is the lot of a goalkeeper when the natual default is always to start with the man responsible for shutting out the opposition and work forwards. But the process works both ways.
Bunn responded to that Anfield inquisition with match-defining displays against QPR at Loftus Road and Tottenham at home. Two draws and two points that, but for him, may have been ceded to London rivals, with the detrimental impact on Norwich's current margin for error over the pack below.
Bunn's fifth clean sheet of his spell against the Saints last weekend at Carrow Road merely re-affirmed what an astute piece of business it was to attract him to the club in the closing stages of the summer window.
Many questioned the wisdom with an established high class number one and two talented understudies in Declan Rudd and Jed Steer. Questions were asked about stunting the development of City's youngsters.
Hindsight is a wonderful gift but foresight is an even more precious commodity. Given Ruddy's injury Chris Hughton would have had to expose one of his inexperienced home grown products to the full glare of a fight for Premier League survival.
Lee Camp's mid-winter acquisition with Ruddy still not fit for duty merely provided even healthier direct competition for Bunn. It is a measure of the man he has responded again in such positive fashion. Hughton may face an even tougher selection dilemma should Ruddy return to full scale physical fitness this season.