The power of two is not working for Norwich City

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Norwich City's self-destructive streak returned with a vengeance in a goalless Premier League draw against Newcastle at Carrow Road.

Chris Hughton's persistence in deploying both Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel in his starting line up is now bordering on stubbornness after another futile outing from two expensively-acquired strikers.

The underlying sentiment is laudable. Norwich remain one of the lowest scorers in the Premier League this season but the integration of two players boasting prolific pedigrees appears to be exacerbating a far bigger problem.

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Newcastle's two holding midfielders and a trio of attacking midfielders in front committed to servicing the excellent Loic Remy allowed Alan Pardew's men a numerical advantage that only failed to bring a seventh top flight away success through wayward finishing and the obduracy of John Ruddy.

Norwich went to Everton earlier this month with the same mindset and found themselves on the back foot and pinned inside their own territory for the majority of the game. That 2-0 defeat was an entirely predictable outcome. Norwich did eventually subdue Hull on home soil in between a trip to Merseyside and Newcastle's visit, through an 87th minute set piece from central defender Ryan Bennett, but Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper show no signs of being a productive union.

That palpable sense of frustration and tension swirling around the stadium on Tuesday night boiled over in two incendiary incidents in either half. City's Scottish international Robert Snodgrass became embroiled in an unsavoury verbal spat with a section of his own support after his corner was easily cleared at the near post. Both warring parties had made peace by the final whistle with Snodgrass pointedly returning to the scene to acknowledge the same supporters who happily reciprocated.

Chris Hughton talked of a passionate player and his willingness to fight for the cause as he launched a defence of Snodgrass, but even a sporadic rupture in the fabric of that solid relationship between those on the pitch and those on the terraces in the heat of battle offers an unwanted sub-plot to a season of enduring toil.

Bradley Johnson's late red card after squaring up to Remy resulted in the Frenchman's early exit as well and prompted Pardew to question the Norwich midfielder's motives. Pardew's accusation Johnson should be ashamed of his actions sat uneasily given his own conduct was called to account recently after a run-in with Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini.

When the dust settled on a fractious evening, light on goals but with plenty of incident, Norwich's hard-fought point in adverse conditions will be the abiding memory rather than Snodgrass' spat or Johnson's red mist. But Hughton has a major tactical conundrum to wrestle with now ahead of a key trip to Cardiff City this weekend. The power of two appears to have limited effect; something has to give in his desire to pair Hooper and van Wolfswinkel together.

Johnson's potential three-match ban and the continued absence of the injured Jonny Howson, allied to Wes Hoolahan's omission from the squad in midweek as the final throes of a tiresome transfer saga plays out, all narrow Hughton's room for manoeuvre. But on the evidence of the past three Premier League battles he has no real choice but to seek change.


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