City boss Chris Hughton readily admitted that his squad would be down to some pretty bare bones for tomorrow’s trip to West Ham United as a combination of niggling injuries and suspensions took their toll.
Bradley Johnson’s fifth yellow card – just 48-hours before the mid-season ‘amnesty’ – ensures that the combative Canary midfielder will miss the trip to Upton Park, while both skipper Grant Holt and Steve Morison have to be doubtful with their hamstring and thigh complaints respectively.
The eye-catching nature of Jonny Howson’s second-half performance against Manchester City on Saturday should cover for Johnson’s one-match ban; the bigger concern is up top where minus Holt and Morison, Hughton will be left with little alternative but to place his faith in 19-year-old Spurs youngster Harry Kane.
Wes Hoolahan, Alexander Tettey, Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass all look set in stone team-wise; Simeon Jackson may well have to wait his chance again on the bench.
“We’ll asses Steve afterwards,” was Hughton’s immediate reaction to Morison’s 44th minute exit.
“He just felt his thigh, so we’ll have to see. And Grant [Holt] will be touch and go. We’ll just have to assess it over the next couple of games, but hopefully we’ll get Grant back.”
And if not? “If not then it’s always an opportunity for somebody else,” Hughton told BBC Radio Norfolk.
And then there was Johnson, whose temper was not helped by Vincent Kompany’s 4th minute challenge that via Edin Dzeko’s subsequent second goal, set the early foundation for Manchester City’s 4-3 success.
“It is a test of the depth of our squad,” the Canary chief admitted, as Norwich look to end a run of three, straight festive defeats at West Ham.
Had Johnson kept his nose clean booking-wise for those 90 minutes then the slate would have been wiped clean. As it was and once the yellow mist descended, so Norwich were left to pay a one-match penalty. But Hughton was clearly loathe to break up such a solid formula at the heart of his team – particularly with a character the size of Holt already out of the running.
“We knew that was a risk with Brad [Johnson]. But it was a risk that we thought was worth taking today because we knew that Grant [Holt] was missing as well, we were very keen to keep the spine of the team.
“But I thought when Jonny Howson came on he showed what a good player he is.”
The plus side, of course, is that the Canaries are not alone in having a few headaches player-wise.
Bookings for both James Collins and Kevin Nolan in the Hammers’ 1-0 away defeat at Reading on Saturday will find both joining Norwich’s Johnson on the sidelines.
Like Norwich, Sam Allardyce’s troops have been somewhat becalmed of late; they too will be looking to return to winning ways after the earlier home defeat by Everton. They have also picked up some big injuries – John Ruddy’s three-month absence for the Canaries being matched by that of Mohamed Diame who tore his hamstring in the 3-2 home defeat by Liverpool at the start of December.
“We shot ourselves in the foot from the early stages,” bemoaned Allardyce afterwards, as Pavel Pogrebnyak’s early strike proved decisive. “James Collins has been solid for us this season but he made a basic error and they took full advantage.
The Hammers, he said, needed to pick up a result. Sooner rather than later, ideally, as the drop zone just started to beckon.
Like the Canaries, a little bit of clear blue water is what Allardyce wants between the Hammers and the Villas, the Sunderlands, the Wigans and the Readings down below.
QPR look doomed – whatever the ever-confident Harry Redknapp may claim.
“We are slipping back down that way now and that is going to put pressure on us,” Allardyce told the BBC. “We are bitterly disappointed not to come away with a point and now we are without James (Collins) and Kevin (Nolan) through suspension for an important game against Norwich.”