City boss Chris Hughton this weekend finally confirmed what the newspapers had long been saying – that Celtic striker Gary Hooper and Swansea’s Danny Graham were both very much on his ‘Most Wanted’ list.
Speaking in the aftermath of the latest Luis Suarez-inspired hammering by Liverpool, Hughton gave the clearest indication yet that the club were working hard to add fresh firepower to their squad before the window closes again in ten days time.
But it is not just the newspapers who have noted Norwich’s intentions – Bhoys boss Neil Lennon was also having his say offering up a classic ‘Hands off!’ rebuttal of City’s reported £5 million bid for his 24-year-old frontman.
“Norwich made a bid and we’ve rejected it,” Lennon told the Scottish Press, the traditional good will between the two clubs being rather tested of late as McNally and Co start to reach for the cheque book.
“I’m really annoyed that it’s come out down there because we like to do our business privately. I don’t like the thought of them trying to unsettle a player.
“We can’t stop bids coming in, we can’t stop speculation,” added Lennon. “But our position is quite strong on this at the moment. We don’t want to sell him, and certainly not for the valuation Norwich put in yesterday.”
Though City might have hit Liverpool on yet another one of their good days, the fact that the Canaries have now taken just one point from the last 18 and have lacked ‘bite’ up top on the back of the injury niggles to both skipper Grant Holt and Steve Morison will have focussed attention yet further on fresh reinforcements.
Whether that was that with regards to Hooper is another matter. Hughton said he ‘respected’ Celtic’s position on the matter.
“I think it was documented that we have made bids for both players – and there has been a statement from Celtic which we have to respect,” said the City chief, speaking in the wake of yesterday’s latest five-goal reverse to Liverpool.
“But that’s all very much in the hands of the powers-that-be. But, yes, it is fact that we have made bids for both players.”
It will not be lost on anyone the impact that £12 million worth of fresh striking blood can have as Daniel Sturridge teamed up with City’s regular nemesis Suarez and together proceeded to rip Norwich apart.
The loss of Sebastien Bassong to a calf injury hardly helped the Norfolk club’s cause; Michael Turner partnered Ryan Bennett at the heart of that defence and, alas, it was all too much of a Fulham (a) re-run against the rejuvenated and rebuilt Reds.
“What we were up against today were an extremely good Liverpool side,” admitted Hughton, with Suarez’ 36th minute strike effectively sealing the contest well before the break.
“We had to match them all over the park – and we gave away poor goals,” admitted the City chief. “Certainly in that first-half period we needed to have more possession of the ball. And when they’ve got the quality that they have, you have got to get closer to them.
Had it stayed at 1-0 going in to the interval, City – said Hughton – might have had chance to re-group, re-think and re-establish themselves in the contest.
Alas Suarez had other thoughts – particularly once new Kop hero Sturridge opened the door to No2 nine minutes from the break with a dummy straight out of the top drawer. The 23-year-old can play.
“The first one is a clinical finish; I was more disappointed with the second goal,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards, the City manager struggling to return to the consistency team-wise that he had in that glorious autumn run.
This weekend both Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington found themselves on the bench; Elliott Bennett and Jonny Howson getting the nod ahead of them. Bassong’s absence was the most keenly felt; he was the rock upon which Norwich’s defensive soundness in the autumn was founded.
“We needed to go into that half-time period not more than one-nil down. At 1-0 we can get back into the game; maybe change things a little bit,” mused Hughton, with City unchanged Premier League position-wise.
“But it’s always a difficult one – if you play more expansive against a team like these, they can open you up.”
“It’s been a bad day for us. We need to dust ourselves down and make sure we’re ready for the next one.”