Norwich’s misfiring strikers have clipped the Canaries’ wings

It wasn’t supposed to go this way. When Chris Hughton took out the cheque book last summer, his plan was completely different and it certainly did not include seeing his side in the bottom three with almost a third of the season gone.

After spending over £20m to bolster his squad, Hughton was adamant that while safety remained Norwich’s main target, his team could improve on last season’s 11th-place finish.

And yet, 10 games into the campaign, Norwich have picked up only eight points, scoring six goals and conceding 20 in the process, with seven of them coming in Saturday’s 7-0 shellacking at the hands of Manchester City.

While the Canaries have picked up only two points less than they had at the same stage 12 months ago and their goalscoring record is just as unimpressive – six goals in 10 this season, compared to eight in 10 last season – the club’s spending spree this summer has heaped pressure on Chris Hughton.

The Norwich manager spent £13.5m on Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel to address the lack of goals that had crippled his side last season when Norwich finished the season with the league’s join-third worst goalscoring record.

However, Hooper, van Wolfswinkel and loanee Johan Elmander have managed only one Premier League between them and, rather more worryingly, have only mustered six shots on goal in the first 10 weeks of the campaign.

Hooper, arrived from Celtic for £5m has had to overcome a pre-season injury and has struggled to recover the form that had made him one of the deadliest strikers in the SPL, while van Wolfswinkel is yet to justify the £8.5m Norwich paid Sporting Lisbon.

The Dutchman is the only Norwich striker to have found the net in the Premier League this season, but it’s taking him a lot longer to settle in the English top-flight than Norwich fans would have hoped.

The personnel, however, is only part of the problem, particularly when one considers Hughton’s conservative tactics.

Despite welcoming three strikers at Carrow Road in the summer, the Norwich manager hasn’t veered away from his preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, which was employed for large spells of last season, with Grant Holt as lone striker and a plethora of midfielders capable to share goalscoring duties behind him.

With Holt gone and the likes of Robert Snodgrass, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington failing to recapture last season’s form – the trio scored 14 league goals last season, while only Pilkington has found the net this term – the onus is on the new arrivals to provide the goals needed to propel Norwich up the table.

However, Hughton’s lack of tactical flexibility has meant his strikers have had very limited opportunities to play together. 

Against Manchester City on Saturday, Hooper played the first 45 minutes, before being replaced by Elmander for the second half, with Van Wolfswinkel an unused sub.

The Dutchman and Hooper have been on the pitch at the same time for just 27 minutes this season in the Premier League, but while Hughton has been reluctant to develop a striking partnership, he’s tinkered around with his side in other areas of the pitch, with 20 players starting Norwich’s first 10 games.

The flurry of changes has undermined the side’s stability – which had, at one stage, yielded a 10-game unbeaten run last season – making it almost impossible for the new signings to gel into the team.

Hughton’s refusal to field two strikers at the same time is made even more unfathomable when considering that while they occupy the same role, Hooper, Elmander and Van Wolfswinkel have different characteristics and could complement each other brilliantly.

Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel made of pace and clever movement in the box their main assets, while Elmander offers the physical impact his team-mates lack and his aerial ability could provide Norwich with a different option.

On Saturday the Canaries welcome West Ham at Carrow Road and while the Hammers have struggled to find the net themselves, they also boast the league’s meanest defence away from home.

Hughton should go for broke if Norwich are to turn their season around, or else he might receive his P45 before Christmas.

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