Head-To-Head

Tuesday 24 December 2013 12:30

René Meulensteen says Dimitar Berbatov has a "fairly good chance" of recovering from the groin injury which kept him out of Saturday's defeat at home to Manchester City, although Philippe Senderos will not feature at all this week.

Norwich City will give a late fitness test to midfielder Jonny Howson who missed his first Barclays Premier League game of the season on Saturday - the 0-0 draw with Sunderland - as a result of a back injury. Russell Martin, who did not play at the Stadium Of Light due to an ankle problem, is expected to be available for selection.

The opposition

The Canaries have struggled for consistency somewhat in the Premier League this season, but their five wins have helped them to a relatively comfortable position of 14th in the table – six points clear of the drop zone.

The fact that the majority of their victories came against sides in and around them in the table (Stoke City, West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace) is an added boost, although they did also secure an impressive 1-0 triumph over high-flying Southampton back in August.

Chris Hughton’s side will go into the Boxing Day clash in solid form as they bid for a fourth consecutive game unbeaten following their win over the Baggies and subsequent draws against Swansea City and Sunderland.

In other news from Norfolk, Howson last week signed a new four-and-a-half-year contract to keep him at Carrow Road until the summer of 2018. He joined from Leeds United in January 2012 and has since made 60 appearances, scoring five goals.

Hughton has ruled out selling any players in the January transfer window. The Norwich manager said: "At this particular moment our thoughts are only on who we would like to bring in. We may come to the decision that we don't want to bring anybody in but certainly we are not anticipating anybody going out in January."

Last time out

Norwich City 0-0 Fulham 09.02.13

Fulham and Norwich played out a goalless draw at Carrow Road in a game of few chances where both keepers were rarely troubled back in February

Bradley Johnson, Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio caused the Fulham backline the most grief during the game, while a Steve Sidwell effort saved by Mark Bunn from range was the closest we came to making a breakthrough.

Fulham’s first chance arrived in the ninth minute when Hugo Rodallega brought the ball down in the area before laying off to Damien Duff whose snapshot was blocked by a man in yellow.

It was a very open match and Duff – who had scored in his last two outings against Norwich – forced a corner on 19 minutes when his shot from a tight angle was deflected just over Bunn’s crossbar.

The home side were beginning to dominate proceedings and Becchio got on the end of Martin’s cross on 40 minutes but couldn’t get his header on target. The Argentine striker had another aerial opportunity in first-half stoppage-time but he couldn’t get a clear contact on Wes Hoolahan’s fine whipped cross.

Fulham kicked off the second half and went on a purposeful attack immediately. It resulted in Berbatov slotting Rodallega in – the Colombian got his shot away and was under the impression it was blocked by a hand but referee Howard Webb waved play on.

Sidwell brought a good save from Bunn on 49 minutes when he cut inside Alex Tettey before hitting a speculative effort on his left foot. The shot was well struck and it appeared to be creeping in before the home keeper pushed it away at his near post.

Whereas Norwich had arguably been the better side in the opening 45, the Whites were dominating the second period and Bryan Ruiz nearly broke Sebastien Bassong in two when his rocket of a shot smashed into the defender’s chest. It was a good block by the Cameroon international as Ruiz’s effort looked dangerous.

As the stopwatch went past the hour mark, the Canaries began to exert a bit of pressure of their own with a series of corners and efforts from range. The Fulham defence held firm though and a combination of blocks and smart defending kept the home side at bay.

On 65 minutes Emmanuel Frimpong was replaced with the more attack-minded Urby Emanuelson. The Dutchman made an immediate impact as he jinked away from his marker in the middle of the park before laying the ball wide to John Arne Riise. The left-back then fed Duff in the area who laid the ball off to Ruiz, but the playmaker ballooned his shot over the bar from 20 yards.

Norwich substitute Simeon Jackson should have done better on 81 minutes when Hoolahan found him in space following Becchio’s knock-down but the striker finished gently into the grateful arms of Mark Schwarzer. Fulham hearts were in mouths on 86 minutes when the ball found its way to Johnson but his volley, fortunately, drifted marginally wide of the far post.

Both sides had half chances from a variety of set-pieces in the closing stages, but nobody could make the breakthrough as the Whites stay above the Norfolk side on goal difference and eight points clear of the relegation zone.

Players to watch

Gary Hooper: A £5m capture from Celtic this summer, Hooper started his career in England and forged a goalscoring reputation in the Championship at Scunthorpe United before moving to the Glasgow giants for £2.4m. The 25-year-old started his career at non-League Grays Athletic and embarked on stints at Leyton Orient, Hereford United and Southend United before establishing himself at Scunthorpe. He scored a fantastic volley from outside the penalty area in Norwich's last game at Carrow Road; a 1-1 draw with Swansea on 15th December. Has a total of six goals so far this season.

Robert Snodgrass: Scotland international midfielder signed from Leeds in 2012, the 26-year-old can operate on either flank. Snodgrass began his career at Livingston before making the move south to Elland Road in 2008. In his final season in Yorkshire he scored 13 goals and picked up both the Players’ Player of The Year and Fans' Player of The Year awards before he moved to the Canaries. Like Hooper, Snodgrass is capable of scoring spectacular goals - his stunning free-kick in the 3-1 win home win over West Ham last month being a fine example.

John Ruddy: After spending a frustrating five years as an understudy at Everton and being loaned out to nine different clubs, a move to Carrow Road has established John Ruddy as Norwich's number one and a regular member of Roy Hodgson's England squad. The 6' 4" stopper moved to the Canaries in 2010 after loan spells at the likes of Walsall, Rushden & Diamonds, Crewe Alexandra and Motherwell. He was immediately given a starting place by then-manager Paul Lambert and has since gone from strength to strength, playing 110 times for his club. He received his first England call-up in May 2012 and picked up his first cap after coming on as a half-time substitute in the game against Italy in August last year.

Magic numbers

50 - Percentage of accuracy of Dimitar Berbatov's shooting this season with 16 efforts out of 32 on target.

1 - First Fulham game this season for referee Jonathan Moss.

2 - Number of the times Howard Webb has refereed this match - the only official appointed to this game more than once.

8 - Goals scored last season by Grant Holt, Norwich's top scorer.

13 - Norwich's position in this season's Premier League's 'passing league.'

14 - Fulham's position in this season's Premier League's 'passing league.'

24 - Number of seasons Norwich has played top-flight football.

29 - League goals conceded by Norwich this season.

57 - Percentage of possession Fulham enjoyed in the 0-0 draw at Carrow Road last season.

90 - Minute Simeon Jackson equalised Orlando Sa's opener in the corresponding game on New Year's Eve 2011, which ended 1-1.