Yellow and Green keeping it clean
346 minutes - that's how long John Ruddy went throughout November without having to pick the ball out of the Norwich City goal.
November 27th, 2012
For almost six hours the Canaries’ rearguard kept all who came near at bay. In 2011/12 Paul Lambert’s City side kept three clean sheets all season – Chris Hughton’s team matched that in one month alone, to make it five shutouts in total so far in 2012/13. It’s an achievement made all the more remarkable when two of those teams that couldn’t break Ruddy and co down included Arsenal and, league leaders at the time, Manchester United. On November 17 at Fortress Carrow Road, Robin van Persie barely got a sniff at goal compared to the four he put past Norwich City last season.
It’s safe to say that what Hughton’s side lacks upfront they more than make up for at the back, and that’s why Premier League survival seems so much more certain with him at the helm. With clean sheets comes success – the Canaries are now enjoying an unbeaten run of six games. The joyride of Lambert has been replaced with the steady progress and, most importantly, the sustainable future of Hughton’s Norwich City, and it is his Norwich City – the back four of Javier Garrido, Sebastien Bassong, Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker that have performed so solidly in recent weeks were all brought in by Hughton over the summer.
Were opposing teams able to beat that back four, they would find themselves up against a goalkeeper enjoying the form of his life. Giroud, Podolski, Crouch, van Persie, Welbeck and Hernandez have all left Carrow Road having encountered a brick wall in goal in the shape of John Ruddy. His Man of the Match performance against Manchester United with Roy Hodgson watching in the stands has surely given the England boss something to consider, especially with Joe Hart’s recent questionable performances.
Here’s hoping the thigh injury picked up in the 1-1 draw at Everton at the weekend doesn’t keep Ruddy on the sidelines for too long. If the England international does find himself on the treatment table for any length of time then Norwich City fans can be rest assured that, in Mark Bunn, Hughton has an able replacement – the back-up goalkeeper performing heroics in the recent League Cup win over Spurs that culminated in a penalty save late in the tie.
Whoever ends up between the sticks in the next game, they will have in front of them the rock that is Sebastien Bassong. The Cameroon international capped a fine display at Goodison Park with a late equaliser and always brings out the best in whoever partners him in central defence. Recently that has been Michael Turner – a man reborn after that opening day debacle at Fulham that saw the Canaries ship five. Booed upon his return later on in the season, Turner has put in some calm, confident performances that have ensured that only cheers ring out now when his name is announced in the starting line-up.
A word also for right-back Steven Whittaker. The fact that he is keeping Russell Martin on the bench should be praise enough. Having suffered an injury in pre-season it has taken a couple of months for City fans to see what the former Rangers defender is made of and – just like Michael Turner – he hasn’t disappointed. Completing the set is Javier Garrido. The left-back on loan from Lazio has used his left foot to devastating effect – his cross found Anthony Pilkington’s head for the winner against Manchester United, and his free-kick at Everton found the head of Sebastien Bassong for the equaliser.
Having installed one of the meanest defences in the Premier League, the next challenge for Chris Hughton is to get the attack firing on all cylinders, and there will be no better opportunity to add to the Goals Scored column than when former Canary and under-pressure manager Martin O’Neill brings his Sunderland side to Carrow Road on Sunday – and in front of the Sky Sports cameras.