Norwich City’s discipline begins to shine through as new boys West Ham come to town
Chris Hughton's hours ploughing through the DVDs of Norwich City's Premier League return last season helped shape how he saw their second season escapades evolving – and the City supporters are beginning to see the evidence for themselves. Indeed, Saturday lunchtime's opposition may well remind Carrow Road of what went before.
Under Sam Allardyce's vastly experienced tutelage, West Ham offer more than power. They will mix it up and give it a go – all fuelled by the usual afterburners handed to any club making the step from tier two to top flight.
It is the kind of dynamism City used to flourish last season. Hughton's task, he admits, was to protect that and add a bit more on top. Or rather, at the back.
After the start of nightmares, the Canaries have barely offered the sniff of a chance to either Queens Park Rangers or Tottenham – a growing defensive discipline that so far is yet to impinge too much on City's attacking instincts. Maybe, just their finishing.
Now City can aim to burst the Hammers' bubble – and prove their own development – on the same afternoon.
'As a team we take pride in that defensive discipline,' said Hughton.
'I think more so, we take pride in the performance and we've gone out in the last two games very much to win the game and play it at a really good tempo, and along with that has come a shape to the team that has restricted the opposition.
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'But there are two ways you can stop the opposition having chances – one is to have a tight defensive strategy, the other is to endeavour to have more of the ball yourself, and if you try to do that and create more at the other end, then invariably you'll restrict their chances.
'So yes, it's something we are pleased with. But it's something we will need again because offensively West Ham are a good side. They've shown they can score goals this season and defensively we will have to be a tight unit.'
You get the sense Hughton's Norwich would fancy more than the three Premier League clean sheets managed last season – number three coming at home to Aston Villa on the final day of the campaign.
'Having watched a lot of the games from last season, what I think the team very much did show was a real desire to go and score goals; it was a team that always looked like it could score goals,' added Hughton.
'But with that always comes a bit of openness at the other end. And they are the balances that we all play.
'The ideal solution is to be good at one end and very good at the other, but that's very difficult. If you're Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, you can be that way…
'Clean sheets are always a really satisfying bonus, because if you're scoring goals the team benefits from that – but it's also nice for a goalkeeper and a back four that has worked hard to stop crosses and blocked shots, to have a clean sheet.'
Be it consequence or coincidence, the Canaries are the only side in Europe's top five leagues yet to receive a booking or yellow card this season. And not all of Hughton's cards have been played as yet either – West Ham may well arrive too soon for that to change.
On-loan striker Harry Kane, a deadline day season-long signing from Spurs, may get the chance to shine having been away with England's Under-21 set-up during the break. And Hughton has a similar decision to make with Alex Tettey, whose own period of settling in was disturbed by the call of Norway's recent internationals.
'Harry is fit and available, but it'll be my decision whether to include him in the squad – he's done about a week's training with us, so it's just a decision on his inclusion with the squad based on that period of time,' said Hughton of the 19-year-old, likened to Teddy Sheringham by former Norwich number nine Iwan Roberts. 'Interesting... same position, similar height. Harry would be a mobile player but certainly wouldn't have the pace of what say Simeon has, and he's a good finisher.
'I think if he ends up being anywhere near as good a player as Teddy is, then that would be a real plus for the lad.
'As for Alex, he will certainly be in the squad. It's been a little bit difficult for him actually.
'He arrived here just before the deadline, was here for a short period and then he was off on international duty some 10 days – and that would have been the ideal time for someone coming in, particularly a foreign player, to really settle into the group.
'So that's a disappointment but we have to cope with those things and there will be plenty of time for him to get his feet firmly under the table here.
'But I believe he's a very good acquisition for us and I'm sure it won't be too long before he's playing a part.'
Jacob Butterfield's time will have to wait as Hughton continues to monitor his promising comeback from a nasty knee injury, while goalkeeper Mark Bunn's first involvement will also require further patience.
But whether Hughton keeps faith for a third time with the starting XI that picked up draws with Rangers and Spurs remains to be seen.
'I would say that XI are in the driving seat at the moment, and that's how it should be,' he smiled. 'If performances are good and players are working hard in training and really pushing me for selection, that's how it should be.
'It doesn't always mean you will go that way, because it's my decision to pick the right team for any particular game. But certainly the starting XI haven't done themselves any harm.'