The Canaries may yet have picked the perfect weekend to face this season’s Premiership surprise package Newcastle United with Toon chief Alan Pardew admitting that they were ‘up against it’ ahead of Saturday’s trip to Norfolk.
For last Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat by a resurgent Chelsea proved far more costly in terms of players than it did in points.
For while victory over Norwich this weekend may yet take Newcastle back into the top four, they will have to do it with a rebuilt midfield and a new-look back four after being hit by big injuries to big players.
Keenest felt is likely to be the season-long loss of inspirational centre-half Steven Taylor who ruptured his Achilles tendon in that controversial home defeat.
United had already seen his centre-half pal Fabricio Coloccini disappear with thigh trouble – the Argentinian is rated merely “50-50” to make this weekend’s trip, Pardew told reporters in the North-East today.
“We’re really hoping that Colo is fit. He’s got a 50-50 chance, we’ll have to see,” said the Toon chief.
His options include an outing for James Perch – or a rare start for Hungarian centre-half Tamas Kadar.
Equally, he could slip a full-back inside if needs must. Both Danny Simpson and Davide Santon could step inside.
And as the Canaries have discovered themselves in the manner in which former right-back Russell Martin has stepped up to the plate in that new, central role, it can work wonders.
Everything will depend on how skipper ‘Colo’ responds to treatment over the next 24 hours.
It was, clearly, an expensive afternoon against Chelsea – Newcastle are, perhaps, not quite the surprise force they were two or three weeks ago.
The loss of the popular Taylor hasn’t helped; not has the lingering sense of injustice over the fact that David Luiz didn’t see red for his last-man challenge on the free Demba Ba.
“The morale in the camp has been one of disappointment because of the way the game went against Chelsea. And on top of that we lose Steven Taylor, a major blow,” admitted the former West Ham and Charlton chief.
Nor do his headaches end with his defence. They will need a new-look midfield too after Danny Guthrie was ruled out for up to six weeks with groin trouble following his exertions against the Blues.
“The biggest problem from the referee’s decision that changed the game was that we put in more effort against Chelsea than we’ve done in any other game this season and that has cost us injuries to Taylor and Guthrie,” rued Pardew.
“It’s left us up against it. I’d have felt really confident going into this period of the season if I had my full squad available, but I haven’t.”
Quite what his exact plans were was up to Paul Lambert to guess.
“I don’t want to give too much away,” said Pardew. “We had no centre-halves by the end against Chelsea and ten men on the pitch. “Tamas is an option; Davide and Danny are options.”
Norwich, of course, didn’t have everything their own way too last weekend; they left Manchester on the back of a 5-1 defeat by leaders Manchester City.
The trick, of course, will be to mentally box that off a one-off result against a one-off team and to concentrate both mind and body against teams that they have a more realistic chance of prising a result out of – Newcastle very much included.
Equally, certain individuals can continue to take heart from the manner in which they have adapted to life in the top flight – Welsh international Steve Morison principal among them.
His 81st minute strike at The Etihad made it four in five Premiership games for the one-time non-league hitman and if anyone is likely to make a new centre-half’s life uncomfortable it is likely to be Morison.
He puts in big, big shifts and has scant regard for anyone’s reputation.
Whoever Pardew finally finds to fill the gaping hole left by Taylor’s injury blow, they will know they have been in a game by the final whistle this weekend.