We can clean up, says Worthy

CHRIS WISE cNigel Worthington is convinced his side will soon start keeping clean sheets on a regular basis if the central defensive partnership of Gary Doherty and Craig Fleming continues to flourish.


Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington is convinced his side will soon start keeping clean sheets on a regular basis if the central defensive partnership of Gary Doherty and Craig Fleming continues to flourish.

The pair teamed up just before Christmas following the completion of Calum Davenport's loan deal at Carrow Road and have played a big part in the sudden upturn in form that has seen the Canaries move from the lower reaches of the Championship to the fringes of the play-off zone.

But the fact remains that City have kept only one clean-sheet during that period - and go into tomorrow's home clash against Watford with just seven shut-outs to their name all season, two of which came against lower division opposition in the Carling Cup.

Worthington may be happy with the way his central defenders are playing right now - but with the goals still going in at the wrong end he clearly feels there is some room for improvement.

“I think the two lads at the back have done an excellent job,” he said. “Doherty has been outstanding this season for 99.9pc of the time while Fleming got back into the team just before Christmas and has been excellent ever since. Now they have got to keep it going.

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“Any team that wants to make progress has got to have that solidness there. But I would still like us, as a team, to keep more clean sheets. We can always win a game 2-1, 3-1 - but I would like it be 1-0, 2-0, 3-0. If Gary and Craig continue to play like they have been playing then that will certainly happen soon.”

With Davenport back with Tottenham and Jason Shackell yet to play since sustaining an ankle injury in early October, it's now important the established pair stay fit for the rest for the season - but Worthington clearly feels he would cope if the worst did happen.

“Jason is half sidelined at the moment and hasn't played a lot of football, but we have got Simon Charlton who could slip in there so it wouldn't be a complete disaster if we lost one of them through injury,” added the City boss.

As far as tomorrow's match is concerned, Worthington will make a late decision on the fitness of Dean Ashton, with Peter Thorne standing by to replace the record signing should he fail a late fitness test on the groin injury he aggravated at Plymouth last week.

“Dean is touch and go for Saturday,” he said. “It's the little groin problem that kept him out of the West Ham game. He was reasonably comfortable to play against Plymouth, but it's not right at the moment so we will have to see where he is at on Saturday morning.”

The manager also has to decide whether to recall skipper Andy Hughes, who is now fit for a full 90 minutes after playing twice in the space of three days, with a second-half run-out at Home Park being followed by a half against Tottenham Reserves on Monday evening.

The combative midfielder, currently playing with a plastic mask to prevent any further damage to the cheekbone he fractured just before Christmas, will be competing with Dickson Etuhu, Jason Jarrett and Simon Charlton for three positions in the centre of the park.

New signing Carl Robinson, who completed a £50,000 move to Carrow Road on Tuesday, still isn't fit enough to join the battle - but Worthington is pleased with the way his recovery from a rib injury is going.

“Carl is doing well,” he said. “And if all carries on well then he will be back in contact training by the end of the week. After Watford there are 10 days to our next game so there's a chance he could be back in contention by then.”

Leon McKenzie is also making good progress after sustaining his second ankle injury of the season against Burnley over the festive period, while Shackell is stepping up his own comeback bid - but neither player will be available at the weekend.

“Leon is doing his running and his build-up work - but he is still a little way off yet,” said Worthington. “As for Jason, he saw a specialist in midweek and the advice was to carry on and see if he gets any reaction in training.”

Worthington will make at least one change tomorrow, with Paul McVeigh certain to come straight back into the side after serving a one-match ban. Ian Henderson is the most likely player to step down to accommodate him.

“Circumstances dictated that Paul missed out at Plymouth last weekend, but that enabled him to take a little breather, recharge and get ready to go again - and I will be looking forward to a big game from him on Saturday,” he said.

Third-choice keeper Paul Gallacher will again be on the bench tomorrow because Darren Ward is still troubled by the back injury that ruled him out last weekend.