City supporters will keep a more than interested eye in events leading up to tomorrow night’s summer transfer deadline after City’s centre back curse struck again at Stamford Bridge.
The exit of injury-plagued Texan Zak Whitbread on the half-four mark with a hamstring strain – following hard on the heels of Daniel Ayala’s Carling Cup injury last week – leaves Canary boss Paul Lambert with just two, fit centre halves in the building in the shape of the on-loan Ritchie de Laet and Leon Barnett.
A third, Elliott Ward, is on his way back from an ankle injury sustained in pre-season and while this week’s international break will clearly help his rehab, his lack of game-time will be a concern – it would be a big ask to throw Ward straight into the Premiership fray without any competitive minutes under his belt.
Hence Lambert was to be found pondering another dip into the transfer market as tomorrow’s deadline approaches.
“Zak [Whitbread] has pulled his hamstring,” Lambert told reporters after the 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. “Wardy is out, Dani is out and now Zak is out so that might be something we have to look at now.”
What was interesting about the way City set-up on Saturday was the fact that they went into Stamford Bridge battle with three centre-halves on display.
It was clearly a tactical horse for that particular course, but in the current injury-hit climate that option is not now available to Lambert – unless he looks to someone like a Russell Martin to do him a job as a third centre-half.
Anthony Pilkington was the beneficiary of Whitbread’s latest brush with injury misfortune as Lambert was forced to switch back to a flatter back four and hope that the former Huddersfield star would stretch Chelsea wide – just as he had Stoke the weekend before.
Unlike their years in the Championship, the Canaries cannot indulge themselves in the ‘emergency loan’ market after August 31; they have big and concrete decisions to make if Lambert is to paper over the cracks that are appearing in his centre-half department.
The other decision, of course, comes in the goal-keeping area with John Ruddy’s controversial dismissal ensuring that he will now miss the home clash with West Bromwich Albion in 12 days time.
Which will then enable young Declan Rudd to step up to the plate and make his first Premier League start. But with his fellow England Youth international Jed Steer currently out on loan at Yeovil, the Canaries may feel the need for an extra, experienced body on the bench to cover all possibilities.
As well as City are performing on their return to the top flight, Lady Luck has yet to smile – particularly injury-wise. Ayala’s recovery time of ‘a few months’ is a big blow – however well Lambert took it on the chin as just part of football’s rich tapestry.
Overall, however, and Lambert continues to take great heart from his team’s introduction to Premier League life. All three games could have yielded a win; all three games found the Canaries competing toe-to-toe with their supposed peers.
The fact that they have scored a goal in each game bodes well; City can now go into each and every game believing that they can score – something currently lost on goalless Swansea City.
“In the first three games we have not been torn apart by anybody,” said Lambert. “As I’ve said, we are new to it and we’ll keep on learning from every game, but I am delighted with how we are playing. Our performance was extremely high, but sometimes you get that – you get beaten by a bit of controversy but, performance-wise, I was as proud as anything.”
The other advantage of Norwich’s bright start is that – even now – it might be enough to persuade potential new recruits that Carrow Road could, indeed, be a good place to be this season; that there might be fun to be had on the banks of the Wensum.
Rather more, you suspect, than at Ewood Park where Blackburn already look to have an uneasy and unhappy air about them.
City are in a good position, playing well and performing as well as anyone might have dared hope. They just need the breaks.