Norwich City’s Premier League defence is getting back in numbers
Norwich City's defence is getting back in numbers – all that remains to be seen is which centre-backs get to take in their final 11 top-flight games.
The Canaries have used a number of pairings in the middle of their back-four this season, which has been added to by the recent return of Elliott Ward to full fitness.
Ryan Bennett's arrival from Peterborough United adds another name to the pot – the England Under-21 international was an unused substitute for his first opportunity in a yellow shirt, City's 1-0 defeat at Stoke on Saturday.
All of which represents an almost abundance of riches for City boss Paul Lambert with five fit centre-backs currently available after Ward, Zak Whitbread and Daniel Ayala had to sit out all or most of the season's early stages due to injury.
The point was made by Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson, who had hoped United could keep Bennett until the summer rather than only the month-long loan that has now expired following his January move.
'I'm not in charge of those kind of things – I'm just saying it would have been the perfect thing for us to keep him,' said Ferguson. 'It will be interesting to see how many games he plays for Norwich before the end of the season. But they were adamant that they wanted him (earlier).'
City's need for another centre-back this season may not have sat well with the Posh boss, but in-form Whitbread acknowledged City's change in circumstances from earlier in the season – when recognised right-back Russell Martin put in a sterling turn at the heart of defence.
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And while City have had far from a settled central defensive duo for their Premier League return, the ex-Liverpool man already expects the 21-year-olds of Bennett and Ayala to represent the club's long-term defensive future.
'It is a bit of a change from the start of the season when Russ did a job there when there was no one about,' said Whitbread, 28. 'It's great to have that competition. Dani and Benno are top young talent and they will be about for a long time after me, when I'm watching them on telly down the pub after I've finished.
'They have got a big future and whatever the older lads can do to help them it will be great. It's good to have the competition and we have got that all over the squad now.'
Whitbread added: 'You never know whether you are definitely going to be in the squad from week to week, and that's how it should be.
'And it's not as if we have got 11 great starters. We have got a great squad and some of those lads in the stands have been massive, instrumental in where we are today.
'So it's great to have those lads in the squad and it's up to each one of us to keep working hard to try and stay in the team and try and get into the team as well.'
The Canaries' attention has already switched to Sunday afternoon, when Wigan visit Carrow Road aiming to re-ignite their bid from Premier League safety.
The Latics were beaten 2-0 at home by Swansea at the weekend, while this weekend Norwich will be aiming to end a run of three successive defeats after their home FA Cup exit to Leicester was followed by losses to top-flight title chasers Manchester United and the turgid reverse at the Britannia. Most City fans will consider getting some points on the board this weekend as a must – but the pressure to do so will not play heavily on Norwich minds according to Whitbread.
'It's a big game, they are fighting for their lives and we are fighting to stay in the league, so it will be a tough one because they are a good side and they have had some good results,' said the City centre-back.
'So we have got to play it as we do and try and get a result. Of course you want to get points in any game – and we want those points against Wigan – but it's not going to kill us and be in our heads where we put too much pressure on ourselves.
'We will just go into it like any other game. We want points as much as anyone and we are not going to get too worked up about it.'
City's record with Wigan is sparse with just six past meetings, while this is only the second season the two clubs have shared a division.
Norwich are yet to concede at goal at home to the Latics, with a 1-0 League Cup first leg win in 1998 and a stylish 2-0 victory on their way to the second tier title in 2004 the only Carrow Road games to date.
• Aside from Ferguson's annoyance at Ryan Bennett's departure, the Peterborough boss has also reiterated his belief that Norwich City owe him a defender on loan.
The Posh boss is adamant the Canaries agreed to allow a defender to join United on loan as part of Bennett's move away. Paul Lambert has previously denied any such arrangement exists, but following Posh's 3-0 home defeat to Millwall on Tuesday, Ferguson said: 'The deal with Ryan is we would have got one of their centre-halves.
'He's not even on the bench, the lad, and we still can't get him. So I don't know what's going on there.'