Hull City Preview
This weekend sees the Canaries take a back seat again in terms of the pre-match hype.
When Everton rolled into Norfolk last week, Roberto Martinez was always going to be the centre of attention as he took charge for his first league game in his new, high profile job with the Toffees. Even the post-match coverage was stolen by the admittedly brilliant Ross Barkley, and had it not been for Ricky "The Wolf" getting his first Premier League goal for us, we'd have done well to get so much as a paragraph in some of the national newspapers.
This week, all the attention turns to Hull City AFC (out of pure respect for them, I refuse to call them Hull City Tigers. What a ghastly, Americanised re-jig that is. Pathetic. If we ever become Norwich City Canaries, I will scream) and their first home game back in the top tier of English football since May 2010.
Even in Michael Turner's press conference, there were more questions about Hull than there were about Norwich, and whilst they would obviously go with that angle because he's an ex-player, a bit of balance would've been nice. (I pay for the Canaries player, so naturally I want to watch things of a Canary nature. If I wanted Hull coverage, I'd get a Tigers player. Just a minor gripe.)
Ex-Canary Steve Bruce has done a fantastic job in East Yorkshire, bouncing back from his sacking at Sunderland in some style. It's taken a while for Hull to get back to this level, and there's been some controversy along the way, namely the manner in which Nick Barmby was dismissed from his managerial post in May 2012.
They boast a passionate fan base, and whilst they are largely grateful for the work their owners have done in reviving the fortunes of the club, they are less than thrilled about the new re-branding plans playing on their Tigers nickname.
But as Bruce alluded to in his pre-match presser, the KC Stadium might not be a cauldron of noise for their first home fixture; Hull FC (the Rugby League side) are playing at Wembley in the Challenge Cup Final. Hull AFC requested that the game be put back 24 hours to compensate for this, but the request was denied so it'll be interesting to see the attendance figures. It bodes well for the visiting fans who won't have as much trouble getting their voices heard.
From a Yellows perspective, it'll be interesting to see how Hughton organises his side.
On the one hand, he'll know full well that teams like Hull are ideal opportunities to pick up a vital three points (with all due respect to them), and even at this early stage in the season, 3 points here could be crucial when it comes to the end of season run-in. Especially when you look at the fixtures we've got during that period.
But flipping the coin, he'll know that Hull will see us much in the same light.
A relegation six pointer, you might say? Far, far too early to tell such a thing. But we'd be rude and maybe a touch arrogant not to entertain that prospect from a Norwich viewpoint, and you know Hull will be fighting tooth and nail for them too.
So, do we defend rigorously away from home? Two banks of four, one up top, pack our box for corners and free-kicks? Quite possibly.
Only a fool would dispute that home form will be the key for both clubs this season, but away from home nearly every attainable point is something of a bonus. So while I don't think we should invite much pressure from them, shutting out their attacking options and hurting them on the break might be our best bet.
Despite a tough start against Mourinho's Chelsea, the momentum from Hull's promotion-winning season should still remain, and that kind of positive attitude/honeymoon period will be a real asset to their survival hopes, just as it will for Cardiff and for Crystal Palace, and likewise ourselves from our own promotion two years ago.
To that end, here's some pre-match info.
First, Norwich, and the bad news about Elliot Bennett's knee injury which will keep him on the sidelines for "several months" according to Hughton. A massive shame, especially considering he played so well against Everton last weekend.
There is some good injury news however, as Hughton confirmed that Robert Snodgrass, Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington are all in contention for the game. He didn't clarify whether that meant as starters or subs, but it's good news all the same. Leroy Fer will also be in contention with his suspension completed, meaning he could make his competitive debut for us.
Johan Elmander signed this week, and the ex-Bolton and Galatasaray forward will be pushing for a place in the match-day squad. It looks to be too soon for Gary Hooper though, who is taking longer than initially thought to shake off his shin injury.
Stephen Quinn is a doubt for Hull, but otherwise they're pretty healthy, and several of their summer recruits will be looking to make home debuts. Bruce has already cited that Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore - both recruited from Spurs - are likely to start.
Last time we met
Norwich actually travelled to the KC last July for a pre-season friendly, ending in a drab 0-0 draw. But in competitive play, we last bumped into them towards the end of the 2010/11 Championship season when both teams were gunning for promotion. The Canaries were in second whilst Hull were just outside the play-off spots.
Nick Barmby, who would replace Nigel Pearson as manager not so long after this, grabbed an equaliser for the hosts to cancel out Zak Whitbread's headed opener.
It cut Norwich's gap to just two points between them and Swansea in third, but then-Tigers manager Pearson - who would eventually leave for a return to Leicester City - was disappointed they didn't get more from the game, citing that they had the better chances.
Despite the advantage slimming a bit in terms of the automatic promotion race, the Canaries of course went on to secure 2nd place, while Hull blew their play-off hopes by finishing 11th, ten points off of the top 6.
(League results only, still not counting pre-season games.)
Following on from the West Brom and Man City victories at the end of 2012/13, the draw with Everton makes it 3 league matches without defeat. Only 46 to go to match Arsenal's all-time record, eh? Perhaps even more encouragingly, that's 9 goals scored in the last three league fixtures too.
The W in that form guide came away to Ipswich Town (Nice one, lads), but following that they didn't win again that season, which brought about a nervous finale for them.
They came close to blowing automatic promotion on the final day of the season against Cardiff after Nick Proschwitz missed a late penalty, only for Cardiff's Nicky Maynard to score a penalty at the other end to tie the game at 2-2, causing many fans to go very, very grey and get overwhelmed with worry in the process. Luckily, Watford blew their chance by losing to Leeds, and the KC crowd could resume with their celebrations.
Whilst their last few Championship games were a little inconsistent, the groundwork for their 2nd place finished had already been laid. The recent defeat at Chelsea was expected, but they were very encouraging in the 2nd half and by no means disgraced themselves, even in the middle of the Jose Mourinho circus.
Head to Head Stat
Norwich only have one win over Hull in their last five competitive meetings, spanning 6 years. Scary.
What's in store this time?
As first away trips of the season go, there's good and bad about this one. Good in the sense that it isn't as difficult a place to get a result from as say, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, but bad in the sense that they're almost an unknown quantity, having only played them in a friendly last summer and with several new recruits added to their ranks. Bruce will likely still be experimenting with formations and shape, making it harder to predict how they'll look on Saturday.
I'm expecting a tight game with little to crow about on the goals front, but a test we can ultimately pass. As with last week, having Nathan Redmond zipping around the midfield might just be the perfect tonic, while the players who missed out last week through injury and suspension will make us much stronger almost by default, depending on their conditioning.
I dare say it wont be pretty, but let's hope it's effective enough to yield our first victory of the season, and hopefully another goal for RVW. He proved last week that despite getting limited touches, he only needs one opportunity to find the net, a trait that all great strikers possess in their locker. Hopefully he gets good service.