Hughton’s faith in youth will be tested as injury crisis deepens

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Norwich City’s supporters may get their wish with a debilitating injury crisis afflicting Chris Hughton’s Premier League squad.

Hughton’s confirmation on Tuesday night that his first-choice wide midfielders, Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass, are out for the foreseeable future with hamstring and knee injuries, respectively, was a sour epitaph to last weekend’s latest away defeat at Newcastle.

Julian Finney/Getty ImagesNorwich will be without Anthony Pilkington (hamstring), above, until at least January. Teammate Robert Snodgrass (knee) is reportedly out for 'a few weeks'.

Snodgrass has been ruled out for ‘a few weeks’ but there was no such equivocation regarding Ireland international Pilkington, who will not return until the new year. City’s Colney training base is rapidly turning into a triage centre, with fellow midfielders Elliott Bennett (knee) and Alex Tettey (ankle) similarly sidelined until 2014.

Add the ongoing concern around club-record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s toe injury -- the prized Dutchman will miss the next three Premier League games -- and it is hard to see any shafts of light among the gloom.

City at least can call on the prolific Gary Hooper in van Wolfswinkel’s continued absence. but Hughton’s supply lines in wide areas to service the ex-Celtic frontman are now severely restricted. When Norwich's manager looks around the dressing room ahead of Crystal Palace’s weekend visit to Norfolk, he will see two teenage talents in Nathan Redmond and Josh Murphy.

Both are prodigiously-gifted and regular members of England age-group setups, but there is a vast chasm between offering viable alternatives to alter the flow of top-flight matches from the bench compared with the onerous responsibility of starting games in such exalted company. Murphy has graduated from last season’s FA Youth Cup-winning squad to become a regular member of Hughton’s first-team pool.

His senior debut was marked by a thumping 30-yard goal in the Capital One Cup win at Watford earlier this season. There is something of the showmen in both that inevitably endears them to a Carrow Road support, who at various points in a frustrating campaign have been vocal in their condemnation of Hughton’s circumspect policy towards his youthful flyers.

Hughton was at pains to make it clear when Redmond arrived from Birmingham in the summer he was still a young man learning his trade. Now City’s injury curse is likely to accelerate that development. Hughton has other options at his disposal with both Martin Olsson and Steven Whittaker versatile operators who he has deployed with varying degrees of success in recent weeks farther forward from their more familiar surroundings of full-back.

But Norwich’s shaky league position and inability to harvest points on the road places even greater emphasis on an aggressive, forward-thinking approach against the Eagles this weekend, who arrive in Norfolk buoyed by a battling win at Hull and fresh from installing Tony Pulis at Selhurst Park.

City’s latest depressing injury bulletin merely increases the degree of difficulty ahead of a game they will expect to win. Hughton has already attempted to put a positive spin on the loss of Pilkington and Snodgrass by insisting it is an opportunity for others. Many will hope that is as a clarion call to youth.

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