That little bit of Irish magic and, maybe, some missing midfield muscle could be back at Chris Hughton’s disposal this weekend as the Canaries prepare to play host to struggling Wigan Athletic.
Wes Hoolahan and Alexander Tettey were both absent from Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup quarter-final clash with Aston Villa as City’s recent, barn-storming unbeaten run ended at the ten-game mark with that 4-1 home defeat by Paul Lambert and Co.
And in the brief post-mortem that followed said exit, both names were mentioned – as in Hoolahan tending to oil the wheels of Norwich’s forward momentum as the hard-running Tettey matches midfield partner Bradley Johnson tackle for ball-winning tackle.
Both players have figured large in an unbeaten Premier League run that still stretches back to the first week in October – cup events notwithstanding.
And, on paper, the visit of the Latics – locked in the drop zone after four defeats in their last six outings – offers an ideal opportunity to bounce back from Tuesday night’s disappointments and leap-frog into the top half of the table on the back of a fifth straight home league success.
That, of course, is the theory. In practice, the visit of Wigan has ‘banana skin’ written large all over it; most would be that little bit more reassured that normal service was about to be resumed if the names of Hoolahan and Tettey figured on tomorrow’s team-sheet.
Boss Hughton was hopeful as the Canaries gear up for a busy festive spell still sat very pretty in 12th. Depending on the way other results fall, victory could even see the Norfolk side sit 7th in the table come five o’clock tomorrow. At which point memories of quarter-final cup exits will have swiftly faded.
“Tettey and Hoolahan both come into contention for Saturday,” the City chief confirmed at the pre-match Press conference this week.
Yesterday’s particularly inclement weather didn’t make for an easy return to first team action, but needs maybe must as the Canary chief looks for an immediate response from Tuesday.
“It was a difficult day training because of the conditions,” he said. “And we weren’t able to do enough on the surface that we would have liked, but it was still a decent enough day, so they come into contention.”
Hughton also has a decision to make on Steven Whittaker after the Scot also missed the cup exit; Russell Martin returning to right-back as Leon Barnett paired up with Sebastien Bassong in the middle of that usually stubborn City defence.
With Ryan Bennett not expected to figure and Michael Turner still feeling his way back from injury, Whittaker’s return could allow for Martin’s return to centre-half.
“We will assess Steven Whittaker tomorrow – he hasn’t done any training this weekend, we just need to make sure that he’s right,” said Hughton.
He certainly wasn’t under-estimating the ability of Wigan to upset the Norwich apple cart. Boss Roberto Martinez is no mug and has proved time and again that he knows how to dig the Latics out of a relegation scrap.
Danger lies straight ahead.
“Wigan are a very good side and sometimes the circumstances are that you find yourself in a place in the league which you might feel is a false position.
“It certainly surprises me a bit where they are at the moment,” said Hughton. “So our approach has to be exactly the same as it would be for any other game because it will be very tough.”
Make it ten unbeaten in the league and the Canaries will fly into Christmas and the New Year – and who knows what Santa might have in his sack when it comes to January’s transfer window?
“We know what we need to put in to get a result. And it’s about bouncing back and trying to get on track again. As with any defeat, it is about a reaction – and I expect a very good reaction on Saturday.”