Paddy, you were Everton’s first game of the season and it finished 2 a piece. Since then, both sides have gone in different directions. What have you made of Norwich’s season to date?
Frustratingly inconsistent. Chris Hughton has not been helped by an injury crisis which ruled out both his big money summer signings Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel for long spells and a number of key midfielders as well. Norwich were hammered across Stanley Park and at Manchester City but they have been in most of their other league games. Everton’s opening day visit was fairly typical. They managed to get themselves in front, then found themselves behind before van Wolfswinkel levelled with what remains his only goal since a club-record move from Sporting Lisbon. They have just done enough to stay out of the Premier League’s bottom three for most of the campaign and when Hughton has come under serious pressure at various stages they have managed to deliver a win. But the rate of progress is very flat.
And how about Everton’s start?
Everton looked a very impressive outfit at Carrow Road on the opening day so it is no surprise they have maintained that momentum. Ross Barkley really announced himself with a superb strike from the edge of the penalty area and you could already see then Roberto Martinez’s influence and philosophy in the way they dominated territory and possession. The lack of punch up front looked to be the only thing lacking, but Martinez addressed that with the loan signing of Romelu Lukaku. Norwich fans know all about him as he scored a winner for West Brom last season in the league game at the Hawthorns.
Many people on the outside looking in are questioning if Chris Hughton is the right man for the Norwich job. Is he? If not, who is?
No question Hughton has found himself at times this season touted as the next casualty for the Premier League sack race. But as mentioned, when they need a result the players have delivered for him; notably when West Ham led 1-0 at the interval at Carrow Road in November. Some tough talking from the players themselves at the interval produced a stirring second half response to win that game 3-1. Hughton has had to routinely answer questions regarding whether he is the right man to lead the club but there have been no adverse noises coming from the boardroom and even if results remain patchy there are no signs his players have downed tools and lost faith in his methods. Malky Mackay’s recent exit from Cardiff does not help his cause with the former Canaries’ defender a popular figure in these parts, but the huge turnover of managers in the top flight means there are very few viable alternatives right now. Hughton knows it is a results-business and if they pick up he will stay in the post.
Leroy Fer was due to complete a move to Everton in January. However, there were issues surrounding the (lack of) cartilage in his knee. However, he seems to have been a consistent performer for the Canaries. What do the fans make of "the Bouncer?"
Cult figure. Probably the pick of the summer signings made by the Canaries, although if Gary Hooper continues his prolific recent form he might have a rival. I spoke to Fer on the club’s US pre-season tour and he admitted when the move to Everton collapsed that was a tough time mentally but after going back to FC Twente and being an ever-present he then impressed for his country at the Euro U21s in Israel. Everton did revive their interest according to the lad but Norwich were quicker off the mark. He’s still only 23 and coming to terms with the gruelling nature of the English game but on his day he has been excellent for the Canaries. He has the lot as a midfielder; athleticism and technique honed in Dutch football and he is also second top scorer behind Hooper.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel commanded a handsome transfer fee in the summer, yet hasn’t been as prolific as the fee may suggest he would be. Although a transfer fee is never the fault of the player, what are the reasons do you think for his lack of goals this season?
RvW missed eight games with a muscular toe injury problem but, as stated earlier, one goal against Everton on the opening day is a poor return for a man who was prolific at Sporting Lisbon. I think aside from the injury you have to factor in the difficulties faced by players who come into the English game from overseas. Chris Hughton makes the point some adapt quicker than others. Leroy Fer certainly hit the ground running but RvW clearly would not have faced the physical type of defending you get every week in the Premier League. In patches you can see the quality and the predatory instincts but in his defence City are perhaps not playing to his strengths.
In contrast, how good a signing has Gary Hooper been, and how important is he to Norwich?
Hooper suffered a shin injury in the club’s final pre-season friendly against Panathinaikos which delayed his Premier League debut until late September. He took time to get up to speed but four league goals in his last eight Premier League games suggests he has now adapted following his move south from Celtic. I think that was the only imponderable when he moved from a league that would not be considered as competitive as the Premier League, but he is an instinctive finisher and Norwich’s only real goal threat at present with RvW on the comeback trail.
What were the realistic ambitions and expectations of the fans at the start of the season, and what are your hopes and expectations now?
City’s record summer outlay in the transfer market inevitably raised expectations. They brought in upwards of eight players for a reported £25m plus outlay. After two mid-table Premier League finishes I think the feeling was they could justifiably aim for the same type of finish this time around, but without quite such a fraught passage to safety flirting with the wrong end which meant they needed to win their final home game last season to guarantee survival. Injuries have hindered that progress but you look at the bottom half of the table entering the New Year and it is so congested they could easily get themselves around the fringes of the top ten. The fear is it could just as easily go the other way and they find themselves scrapping it out around the relegation places.
Former Everton keeper John Ruddy seems to be doing extremely well at Carrow Road. Is he booked on the plane to Brazil in the summer?
I did a magazine interview with John just before Christmas and he is certainly taking nothing for granted on the World Cup front. He knows he needs to keep performing and Norwich need to tighten up at the back, which they have done since some heavy away defeats. Ruddy signed a new deal last summer after Chelsea made an enquiry with Jose Mourinho looking for cover for Petr Cech. That underlines how consistent he has been since really settling in Norfolk. He knows he is the main man in these parts and his career has flourished as a result. On the England front it looks like Joe Hart and Ben Foster will go to Brazil, barring injury, so he is in a straight fight with Celtic’s former Norwich loan keeper Fraser Forster.
Since the start of December, you have taken 6 points from a possible 21 and includes quite a few draws against sides around you in the table. Can this form be turned around?
The draws are really stifling any progress up the table. City had to tighten up after heavy defeats and they have by and large managed to do that but they need more at the top end of the pitch. They drew at Sunderland and Crystal Palace over the festive period, which would be considered decent results, but losing to Fulham at home on Boxing Day felt like one step forward and two back. They have Hull at Carrow Road after this weekend’s trip to Merseyside and those are the games they will need to win.
Looking ahead to the game at Goodison Park, what system should we expect to see from Norwich and who are the players should Everton be concerned about?
Norwich in recent weeks have tended to play with a four across the back and in midfield, with a deeper-lying support player to Gary Hooper. City will know Everton are likely to have the majority of possession so that shape gives them plenty of protection without the ball. They will then look to hit on the counter and make the most of any set piece opportunities. Robert Snodgrass’ delivery could be important from corners and free kicks and Nathan Redmond’s pace and directness are perfect for that counter-attacking style.
Who are the Norwich faithful looking to keep quiet in the Everton side?
Certainly Romelu Lukaku is the type of powerful frontman who has given City problems in the recent past. The Canaries’ are only too aware of Ross Barkley’s threat after his impact and goal in the opening day Premier League draw. You look at Everton’s two full-backs and when you talk about offensive capabilities in the modern game they are probably unrivalled across the league as a pair, so keeping Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines the other side of the half-way line from Norwich’s perspective is another key battle to win.
Finally, give us your prediction for the game.
Norwich is actually unbeaten against Everton in the Premier League since they returned to the top flight in 2011. City scrambled a stoppage time equaliser at Goodison Park last season and they would be delighted to return home with a point. A lot could rest on Everton’s mindset and whether they show any complacency but it would still be a major surprise if they do not have enough to overcome the visitors. 2-0 home win.
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