Case for the defence was Norwich City’s core strength

Michael Turner starts his road to redemption with a glancing blow to stun Aston Villa at Villa Park

Michael Turner starts his road to redemption with a glancing blow to stun Aston Villa at Villa Park in a 1-1 draw. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

In the first of a three-part series dissecting the Canaries' successful battle to retain their Premier League status, Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt turns the spotlight on the goalkeepers and those men deployed to thwart some of the best striking talent in the global game.

Chris Hughton's masterstroke in shoring up a porous backline was a testament to his managerial nous.

That chastening opening day to forget at Fulham followed by fresh early season pummellings against Liverpool and Chelsea were alarming concessions made at an unsustainable rate.

The disjointed and dishevelled performance at Craven Cottage merited swift and decisive action. Sebastien Bassong was recruited from the shadows of Tottenham's squad to inject ballast and athleticism which would galvanise the club's rearguard.

Bassong was an immense figure in both penalty boxes. His seamless transition to the Norwich starting line-up was in stark contrast to Michael Turner's difficult acclimatisation in green and yellow. Hughton even felt compelled to pull the big centre-back out of the firing line for a period, but the measure of the man was his response to such adversity.

Turner's glancing headed equaliser to salvage a point at Aston Villa was a perfect riposte; the cupped ear gesture as he ran towards the away end perhaps an acknowledgement of those testing transitional moments but also a wonderfully raw illustration Norwich had a player who was ready for the battles ahead. Turner was just the type of character Hughton could construct an impermeable defensive barrier around.

City's boss paired the duo together for the very first time in that season-defining 1-0 success against Arsenal at Carrow Road.

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The synergy between two experienced Premier League campaigners was to prove vital when the Canaries suffered the potentially debilitating loss of England keeper John Ruddy.

The St Ives man's international recognition either side of the close season was a testament to his impressive first full top flight campaign for the Canaries.

The true extent of Ruddy's damaged thigh injury that he suffered in the closing stages of a 1-1 draw at former club Everton in November was not readily apparent after he finally succumbed during a second-half period at Goodison Park where the pain was etched on his features with every attempted kick into home territory. Ruddy's social media revelation an hour before the following midweek game at Southampton that he required surgery and a long period of rehabilitation may in different circumstances have left Hughton's squad facing insurmountable odds.

But again, the manager's foresight in recruiting Mark Bunn towards the end of the summer transfer window reaped a rich dividend. Bunn was to prove an able deputy for two-thirds of a campaign he may otherwise have expected to settle for a watching brief on his arrival from Blackburn.

Bunn eventually made way for the club's number one inside the final furlong, but there is no doubting his contribution to the cause. The keeper's penalty heroics at QPR earned City a valuable point in February and stunted the first concerted stirrings of a failed Rangers' revival under Harry Redknapp. The 28-year-old proved similarly obdurate four days earlier on home soil when only the brilliance of Gareth Bale earned Tottenham a point.

Gylfi Sigurdsson was then denied a late match-winner in a save Bunn rated his best of the campaign. His early red card at Sunderland was a manageable loss in the sort of rearguard action that periodically defined Norwich in times of stress. Swansea's storm subsided at the Liberty when even a three-goal interval lead for the visitors threatened to be insufficient.

Those stellar home wins over Arsenal and Manchester United both tested the residual strength of Norwich's last line whilst Sunderland had also subjected City to a sustained onslaught in the second half at Carrow Road before they held firm to claim a priceless three points. Norwich's defensive organisation and collective resolve formed the foundations of that club-record unbeaten Premier League run and ultimately survival.

Russell Martin continued to mature into an established Premier League defender. Steven Whittaker brought European and international nous from his time with Rangers and Scotland in an otherwise injury-interrupted season. Javier Garrido offered attacking panache and a productive outlet down the left flank in tandem with Anthony Pilkington.

To finish the campaign with 10 clean sheets after the opening day disaster at Fulham was a tribute to Hughton and his coaches to meld a unit capable of subduing some of the best striking talent available in the world.

The abiding defensive memories should be Bassong's last-ditch intervention to halt Aroune Kone against Wigan or Turner's bravery in the return fixture to throw himself in the line of fire to block from Jordi Gomez.

Days like Fulham and Liverpool home and away were isolated horrors that only forged a steely collective approach to securing Premier League survival.

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