City boss Chris Hughton refused to take the easy option of pointing to Grant Holt’s absence as one of the contributing factors to this weekend’s 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
It ended Norwich’s recent run of ten Premier League games unbeaten as goals from Zoltan Gera and then Romelu Lukaku nine minutes from the end gave the Baggies a hard-fought success after Robert Snodgrass’ first-half free-kick had given the Canaries an early advantage.
But with chances thereafter proving few and far between, it was Holt’s hamstring that came to figure large in the post-mortems as the 31-year-old Norwich skipper missed the trip to the Midlands and left Steve Morison to plough the lonely furrow in his absence.
“You’re always going to miss your good players – but we’ve got a good squad,” Hughton insisted afterwards, as the absence of Holt was noted.
“We have a competitive squad here and you can’t go through-out a season putting the same team out week in, week out.
“Did we miss him today? Yes – because he’s a big player for us. But I thought Steve Morison acquitted himself very well at times today and probably had the best chance when Alexander Tettey put him through.”
The other point, of course, is that the January transfer window is little more than a week away. Already wheels are in motion elsewhere with Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge reported to be heading for Anfield ahead of a £12 million switch to Liverpool.
Given events of late, there will – inevitably – be an expectation that Norwich will seek to strengthen their strike department. Likewise, given Hughton’s sure touch in the transfer market following the summer arrivals of the Tetteys and the Bassongs, the Garridos and the Snodgrass’, so hopes will be high of a new-look City strike force being brought to bear on the spring fixture list.
How much of the festive season Holt will now miss – with the Boxing Day visit of Chelsea to Carrow Road next on a busy agenda – was the next question.
“We always have to be guided on the injury by the medical department,” Hughton told the BBC, well aware of the dangers of pushing his skipper back into the fray too soon and risking an even lengthier spell on the sidelines.
“And the advice from the medical department was that he wasn’t right to play today. We knew it was close and particularly with Grant, he doesn’t miss many games. He’s a tough individual, but hopefully we’ll get him back for the next game which is a very tough one at home to Chelsea.”
Norwich’s cause was not helped by conceding that all-important leveller at a bad time – three minutes before the interval as Gera pounced on a messily-defended corner. One that should never have been awarded in the first place, in Hughton’s opinion. There was also the small matter of an obstructed keeper to ponder.
“I think that’s one that the referee has got wrong,” he politely suggested afterwards.
The hope would be that the traditional Boxing Day buzz at Carrow Road will re-light Norwich’s fire after an autumn run that powered them right up to seventh spot. Though yesterday’s defeat dropped City back to tenth, they are firmly placed amidst that mid-table pack and can see some clear blue water between themselves and the likes of Wigan, Southampton, QPR and Reading down amongst the dead men.
Five more wins and they will hit that magic 40-point mark, though whether the next two games – against Champions League winners Chelsea and then reigning Premier League champions Manchester City – will yield much joy points-wise is another matter.
But then few would have expected six points from the two home games against Arsenal and Manchester United. Hughton’s Canaries are full of surprises; just as much as they were under his predecessor.
“The mood is not good at the moment – and you don’t want a good mood in the changing room after you have lost a football match,” said Hughton.
“But we have to make sure that we bounce back; put this behind us and give a good account of ourselves in the next game. Two tough ones – but two to look forward to.”