The spectre of injury has never strayed far from Norwich City's preseason build-up. Gary Hooper's early exit against Panathinakos at Carrow Road pn Saturday was merely the latest scare for Chris Hughton to endure.
Hooper's dramatic departure on a stretcher after an awkward twisting challenge from Pana's Gordon Schildenfend in a routine 2-0 win sparked genuine cause for alarm. Hughton was cautiously optimistic his prized summer capture from Celtic had merely suffered a heavy-impact injury to his left shin.
Hooper left the ground on crutches bound for a hospital checkup his manager labelled ‘precautionary’. The 25-year-old must already be considered a doubt for Everton’s opening-day Premier League visit this Saturday but City’s management and medical staff will hope the striker is not set for a longer layoff when the full extent of Hooper’s injury becomes clear over the next few days.
Sebastien Bassong is already facing a race against time to play any part against the Toffees. Midfielder Anthony Pilkington appears to have lost his battle to recover from a knee problem which limited him after impressive outings early in the club’s U.S. tour. Bassong missed the USA trip along with central defensive ally Michael Turner after knee and shoulder surgeries, respectively. Turner has since returned but Bassong is yet to play any part during the close season.
The first sight of the Parisian for Norwich City’s support came as he was belatedly presented with his player-of-the-year award prior to the club’s preseason finale against the Greeks -- a hangover from City's fraught but ultimately fruitful survival battle in the closing weeks last season.
Bradley Johnson and keeper John Ruddy have both suffered injury setbacks in recent weeks. Johnson returned with a bang and a headed brace to sink Pana while Ruddy proved his fitness after missing the Real Sociedad outing to rest a minor back complaint. Norwich’s No. 1 now heads to England duty as part of a growing international contingent at Carrow Road.
Hughton predictably questioned the wisdom of such a date on the calendar three days before the Premier League kickoff. The last thing City require is fresh depletions to a squad which, although embellished over a productive summer in the transfer market, does not possess the depth of many top-flight rivals.
Norwich’s successful periods during Hughton’s first season came from a settled line-up and system that complemented the constituent parts. Hooper’s early second-half exit deprived Hughton of one final opportunity to detect the stirrings of a productive union between the Englishman and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who Norwich captured for a club-record fee. The Dutch international has the pedigree to emerge as a high-class spearhead but Hooper exudes a powerful athleticism to suggest he can operate in that crucial link role. Hughton has had barely 40 minutes of friendly action to assess the experiment -- but the experienced City boss knows Everton’s visit is the real acid test.