City boss Chris Hughton has expressed an early doubt as to whether or not his star midfield turn Alexander Tettey will, after all, be disappearing off to Eastern Europe this week following yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Reading.
The 26-year-old missed out on Norway’s World Cup double-header last month as he struggled to force his way beyond the ex-Leeds pairing of Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson.
But on the strength of his recent Premier League performances alongside Johnson has – quite rightly – found his way back into Egil Olsen’s thinking for Norway’s mid-week trip to Hungary.
Much in the same way that the performances of Wes Hoolahan have, finally, earned him the nod from Republic Of Ireland boss Giovanni Trappatoni.
But after again taking centre stage in the hard-fought point at Reading this weekend, City boss Hughton revealed that the former Rennes star has been struggling with a back complaint and may yet have to withdraw from Olsen’s plans as all eyes now turn to next weekend’s home clash with Manchester United.
“Alex Tettey took a little knock on his back,” Hughton told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards, as the Canaries made it four games unbeaten in the Premier League with their first clean sheet on their top flight travels in eight years – enough to keep them two wins away from the drop zone pack.
“So that’s one we will have to assess before – or if – he goes,” he added. “He [Tettey] almost missed this game; didn’t do too much training this week; he was pretty sore at the end of the game.”
If Hughton is loathe to let Tettey out of his sight, he likewise has concerns about full-back Steven Whittaker who found himself back in the Scotland reckoning after those 13 weeks out with the injury sustained in the pre-season friendly with Celtic.
Given the fact that fellow full-back and Scottish international Russell Martin has also picked up a knock of late, Hughton clearly favours a week’s rest for the former Rangers’ defender.
“Steven Whittaker would be the one that there’s some concern about – he’s been out for a long time and he’s now played three or four back-to-back games which is a tough ask. And, in fairness, to him, I think that showed a little today – particularly in that second-half.”
Hughton, thus far, has been blessed with only having knocks and niggles to deal with. Both Javier Garrido and Michael Turner returned to his starting plans after disappearing early in the Potters clash; neither injury keeping them off the team-sheet.
The result is that Norwich continue to look settled and confident; both the system and the players within that system appear to be working well – the Canaries are offering opposition teams far less time and space than they did earlier in the season.
Well-drilled, well-organised and well-led by Hughton off the pitch and the tireless Grant Holt on it, the Norfolk side are now hard to beat. The next trick is to open up more space in the final third and kill teams off with a goal or two.
Easier said than done when Manchester United are next on the agenda. For now, however, Norwich are doing what they need to be doing against the teams around them – taking two points off them at home and keeping the likes of Aston Villa and now Reading down amongst the dead men.
“If we want to be in every game and be competitive, then we have to make sure that we are tight as a unit,” said Hughton, with the sheer work-rate of Messrs Tettey and Johnson in the heart of that midfield being a cornerstone of said policy.
Norwich are not being opened up at will as they were against Fulham, Chelsea and Liverpool.
“We were very solid at Villa, but I thought we created at Villa. [Then] we had to do a real tough job against Stoke,” he said.
“But it probably wasn’t until the latter bits of the game [Reading] until we found them spaces, but we weren’t able to have those clear-cut chances.”
Holt and Robert Snodgrass came closest to stealing all three points off the Royals as Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington picked their way through the Reading defence.
But, in the end, most would concede that a draw was a fair result.