Norwich City’s pre-season preparations continued in their familiarly steady fashion this evening with a 0-0 draw away at Hull City.
And whilst the goals might not be rattling in at one end right now – nor are they at the other.
More significantly, big players are getting big match time under their belts; and coming away none the worse for wear. The luckless Steven Whittaker remains the only pre-season casualty of note; Elliott Ward and Wes Hoolahan were absent tonight with only ‘minor knocks’, the manager would confirm afterwards.
And for those who wish for a spot of further context to this evening’s events at the KC Stadium, bear in mind that Aston Villa travelled to another nPower Championship side, Nottingham Forest, at the weekend – and lost 3-1.
With a final dress rehearsal at home to Borussia Monchengladbach still to come this Saturday, Canary boss Chris Hughton will take a defensive clean sheet and a clean bill of health every time – certainly above a result of the Forest friendly ilk.
How close Hughton is getting to his first choice XI for the season’s opener at Fulham in ten days time is the other interesting point to tonight’s penultimate warm-up game.
Only new-boys Robert Snodgrass and Michael Turner started this evening from the side that, likewise, drew 0-0 with Peterborough United on Friday night; both, however, would have been in need of an extra run-out after the distractions of their respective moves south; both, you strongly suspect, will figure at Fulham.
The Canary line-up certainly had the feel of an opening XI with Russell Martin, Ryan Bennett, Turner and Marc Tierney providing the back four with Elliott Bennett, Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington offering a flat midfield four with obvious left-right balance to it.
Snodgrass was detailed to play off skipper Grant Holt in what some might argue could be a classic ‘away day’ set up; at home, Hughton might find himself tempted to throw a James Vaughan in up-front. Or, indeed, a Jacob Butterfield whose chances of making a start come August 18th appear to be slim given his lack of game time since being injured in the New Year.
Such chances as there were fell Norwich’s way with Holt, Snodgrass and Johnson all having a crack at the home goal.
One player that didn’t make the trip north this evening was City’s 21-year-old Spanish defender Daniel Ayala who, the club revealed, has joined Forest on loan for the season – another one of Hughton’s pruning exercise following Andrew Crofts’ full-time return to Brighton and Hove Albion.
With 28-year-old Turner offering a weight of Premiership experience at the heart of that defence alongside England Under-21 prospect Bennett, Hughton still has Leon Barnett and Ward to call upon. Whittaker’s current fitness notwithstanding, both the Scottish international and Russell Martin have the versatility to cover across the back four – all of which will have entered into the manager’s thinking as he agreed to Ayala’s loan switch.
“Daniel is one we have talked to,” confirmed Forest boss Sean O’Driscoll, before today’s loan move became official.
He was, he said, in the market for three defensive additions before the summer transfer window slams shut on the East Midlands side. Today he has one in the building after the Spaniard agreed to continue his footballing education at the City Ground.
“Although two clubs can agree things, a player has to want to come and play for you, too,” O’Driscoll had warned the Nottingham Evening Post’s readers.
Ayala’s loan stints at both Hull City and Derby County had helped his cause. He was a known quantity – on and off the field, it appears.
“I saw a lot of Daniel when he was at Hull and he would enhance the squad. He is a good footballer and a good character. We have made an approach, so we will see where it goes.”
To a season-long switch was the answer.