Norwich City’s Steven Whittaker rises to physical challenge against Stoke
Norwich City defender Steven Whittaker was unsure how he would handle two games in the space of three days after such a long lay-off through injury.
With Russell Martin failing to shrug off a back injury, Whittaker was plunged straight into the heat of a Premier League battle just a few days after his impressive debut against Spurs on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup.
Once again the former Rangers man gave an assured performance but before the game he wondered how his body would handle the task after the ankle injury in pre-season got his City career off to a false start.
'It was preying on my mind a little bit – they were two hard games and I didn't know how I would handle it,' he said. 'It was important that I recovered properly from Wednesday. I had to have my ice baths, eat properly and take my rest where I could.
'It was the manager's decision, if he felt that I wasn't ready then I wouldn't be picked. He put me in and hopefully I repaid the faith he showed in me.'
Bradley Johnson's fine header just before the break proved the difference between the two sides in a contest that won't win any prizes in terms of its entertainment value.
However, Whittaker insists the only thing that mattered against the Potters was picking up all three points.
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'It was tricky – we knew what they were going to throw at us,' he added. 'It wasn't the prettiest of games, I think we all know that but we're just delighted to have taken all three points.'
The victory was equally as hard-fought as City's success against Arsenal last month with Stoke coming on very strong in the second half as they desperately sought an equaliser.
The Canaries' plight wasn't helped by injuries to Javier Garrido and Michael Turner, prompting a defensive reshuffle that saw Whittaker switch to left-back as Ryan Bennett and Leon Barnett replaced the crocked duo.
'When you switch sides your body position has to be slightly different,' said the 28-year-old. 'The two lads that came on handled it really well when you know how much pressure you're going to be put under.'
With Russell Martin waiting in the wings, Whittaker knows he must maintain his performance level if he is to continue playing. However, given their versatility Whittaker is sure there could be room in the starting XI to accommodate the pair.
'I think we're both capable of playing in the same team – obviously we've both played full-back this year,' he said. 'Russell has also played centre half and I filled in at left back today as well. I'm sure we can do a good job as well.'
Taking seven points out of the last nine available has prompted a surge of optimism around the club that perhaps it won't be the relegation struggle that many feared.
Whittaker admitted the squad's priority is to maintain their top-flight status this season but hopes City can improve on last season's 12th-placed finish if they can maintain their current momentum.
'The whole aim is to stay in the league – we had a great finish last year,' he said. 'Hopefully we can improve on that and pick up as many points here as we can.
'Picking up points at Carrow Road is a big thing for us and we want to improve on the road. We're doing well and hopefully we can continue that.'