Gary Hooper opens his Norwich City goal account with a brace in 2-2 Braga friendly draw
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's new signing Gary Hooper fired his first salvo for the Canaries in Friday night's 2-2 friendly draw against Braga in northern Portugal.
Hooper's predatory instincts put Chris Hughton's men in command before half-time, but Braga hit back with Paulo Vinicius' towering 54th minute header and a smart finish from the impressive Rafa levelling matters at the AXA Stadium.
City defensive duo Michael Turner and Martin Olsson made their first appearances of the pre-season campaign for the Canaries. Turner played the opening 45 minutes after missing the club's recent USA tour to work on his fitness following a summer operation on a damaged shoulder. Blackburn signing Olsson was also given the opening half to impress before being replaced by Javier Garrido.
Hooper's brace proved the highlight of City's latest friendly outing with a sharp angled finish breaking the deadlock prior to the striker pouncing on Elliott Bennett's rebound to slot from six yards.
Hughton, speaking prior to this evening's Braga test and two Carrow Road dates next week against Real Sociedad and Panathinaikos, admitted he views a trio of continental opponents as the perfect way to prepare for the Premier League kick-off.
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'During the course of pre-season we have to tried to step things up in terms of the quality and the difficulty of the opposition and we have two very good sides at home now in the build up to Everton,' he said. 'You certainly do not want easier games as the season approaches. It has to step up again. We are getting closer to the first one. The pre-season, in a lot of ways, is never a reflection on how you are going to do. I have been involved in many when we haven't done particularly well and started the season well and vice versa. It is about the new players settling in. It is about making sure they are happy with the shape and the system, of bedding them into the philosophy of what we want.'
Mark Bunn played the entire game in Portugal after John Ruddy's 90-minute outing at Brighton, but Hughton has confirmed Ruddy will be his number one for the battles ahead. The City boss is backing the 26-year-old to force his way into England contention again after a five-month lay-off last season following thigh surgery.
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'Yes, he will be my number one,' he said. 'He is a quality goalkeeper. Last season was disappointing for him with injury but in Bunny we had someone who came in and did very well. That is another area you need competition, but John is a very good goalkeeper. The England is down to one person and all the players can do is perform well on a consistent basis to ask questions. I would expect any English player operating in the Premier League on a consistent basis to be knocking on the door. You have to be doing that for your club side and that applies to John or Gary Hooper or anyone.'
City were full value for Hooper's first half brace with Eduardo also forced to tip over Steven Whittaker's effort from range after patient build up down the right with the returning Robert Snodgrass. The Scottish international was back in the Canaries' starting line up after missing the friendlies against Brighton and Cambridge United to head back to Scotland after his girlfriend was involved in a car accident.
Norwich earned a reprive in the 26th minute when Ruben Micael's powerful strike struck Bunn's woodwork and Hooper took full advantage when he anticipated Eduardo's spill to slot home Elliott Bennett's initial strike. Bunn proved a resolute barrier in the final seconds of the opening period when he denied Salvador Agra.
Hughton made a triple change at the break with Russell Martin re-claiming the armband along with introductions for Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Javier Garrido. Hooper miscued a headed hat-trick chance from Snodgrass' dipping free kick but Vinicius made no mistake when he towered above City's backline to despatch a header past Bunn from eight yards. Elliott Bennett was yellow-carded for a heavy challenge that felled Rafa and it was Braga's inspirational spark who levelled matters when he coolly slotted over the advancing Bunn in the 69th minute.
The recently-arrived Nathan Redmond drilled well wide but City were indebted again to Bunn in the 80th minute to deny Rafa after the attacking midfielder had cut back inside Ryan Bennett on the edge of the Canaries' penalty area. Braga's pace on the counter remained a danger in the closing stages but Joao Pedro dragged well wide 20 yards out.
Norwich City: Bunn, Whittaker, Turner (Martin 45), R Bennett, Olsson (Garrido 45), Snodgrass, Tettey, Fer (Howson 61), E Bennett (Redmond 61), Hoolahan (van Wolfswinkel 45), Hooper (Butterfield 68). Subs (not used): Ruddy, Ayala.
Bookings: E Bennett (foul on Rafa Silva, 59); Ryan Bennett (foul on Yazalde, 84)
Goals: Hooper (14, 28)