Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Saturday, January 25, 2014
The character of Norwich City’s players is never in doubt but they must answer those lingering questions about their consistency.
Russell Martin gave a bullish defence of his manager earlier this week when he insisted the rock-solid team spirit that helped carry them from League One remains firmly intact despite the large turnover in personnel. Yet that stirring Premier League win over Hull City will only be a watershed if they follow up with another positive result at home to Newcastle.
Norwich have been here too many times before during a fitful campaign where they never quite manage to break the cycle and earn the luxury of looking upwards rather than casting nervous glances towards those circling below. Martin is adamant one of the tightest survival scraps in recent times will endure right until May. He is not alone in such an assessment, but you can hardly overstate this period carries so much transformative potential with league trips to Cardiff and West Ham on the horizon after hosting a resurgent Newcastle.
Hull must be more than just a brief moment of respite in a fallow period since the battling away win at West Brom. City’s play during the intervening games has brought grounds for optimism and pessimism in equal measure. Norwich deserved much more than a home defeat to Manchester United in unfortunate circumstances after Danny Welbeck pounced on defensive hesitancy in a contest where Norwich had pinned the champions back.
Sunderland was another game rooted in the same levels of defiance without the ball that City had shown at the Hawthorns, but without the degree of precision that could have brought them greater reward. Ricky van Wolfswinkel made his long-awaited comeback from injury on Wearside and spurned a chance in the closing stages to take out his frustrations on the Black Cats. But in the debit column, Fulham’s Boxing Day win was an exercise in festive futility where another tempting chance to gain real Premier League mobility was spurned against the struggling Cottagers; a result compounded by a sterile FA Cup replay exit to the same opponents which intensified the focus on Hughton’s job status.
Norwich have a chance to break the cycle once again in the coming days with a win against his former club, but another lost opportunity will also spark fresh frustration.
Alan Pardew’s squad look genuine contenders for European football next season but Newcastle’s visit should hardly trigger palpations within the home ranks. Hughton’s critics highlight his propensity to shower praise on Norwich’s opponents or even his willingness to forever frame the Canaries’ Premier League task within the context of a fight against-the-odds, but he will know City’s upcoming run carries the potential for a great leap forward.
The injury returns of Alex Tettey and Anthony Pilkington against the Tigers was a positive signal and there is still time left in the transfer window for Norwich to further reinforce, but inevitably it is the top end of the pitch that holds the key.
Hughton has paired Gary Hooper and van Wolfswinkel in tandem during the past two games with limited success in the hope one or both can decisively underline why City were so keen to acquire their services in the summer. A genuine cutting edge to Norwich’s play is the one tangible factor that will reduce the tension levels over the coming weeks.