Norwich City defender Leon Barnett hungry for Premier League return

Norwich City defender Leon Barnett is “as hungry as ever” for the chance to prove himself at Premier League level as he continues his comeback from serious injury.

The 25-year-old centre-back, sidelined from February to the end of last season after a hamstring operation, played more than an hour of Tuesday night’s friendly at Crystal Palace.

City went down 1-0 to an 89th-minute goal by Palace substitute Nathaniel Pinney, but former West Bromwich Albion defender Barnett was off the field by then after playing alongside impressive loan signing Ritchie De Laet in the middle of the back four.

“It’s been a long time out and it’s good to be back on the green grass playing with the boys,” he said.

“I’m just trying to get as many minutes as I can before the first game. Today’s game was just about trying to learn how to prevent the goals and it was unfortunate with the goal at the end.”

With four more friendlies before the opening Premier League game at Wigan on August 13, Barnett realises there are no certain starters on the teamsheet.

“The gaffer is just going to chop and change – nothing is set in stone. There was a lot of pace there tonight but we have to learn different parts of our game. I need to be better on the ball and practise keeping the ball more,” he said.

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“The gaffer has good workhorse players and people who want to play in the Premier League and I think that’s the most vital thing.

“The main thing is to get fit and for me, I’ve got to work double time because I missed a big chunk of last season.

“I’m as hungry as ever, just to have another chance playing back in the Premier League is an honour for me.

“Everybody is excited and can’t wait to get ready and go. Everybody wants to be in that starting position against Wigan.

“There are four centre-halves here fighting for two positions, so you can’t really say who’s going to play.

“Having Premier League experience may help me a bit. I hope it does, but I’m not the manager. The manager picks the team and you’ve just got to try to break in.”

Elliott Ward, James Vaughan and Adam Drury all missed the Palace game with injury, while new loan signing Kyle Naughton will train with City for the first time today.

Manager Paul Lambert also confirmed midfielder Bradley Johnson was withdrawn as a precaution at the interval with a slight knock.

Drury (calf) could be involved at Southend tomorrow but Vaughan (knee) is unlikely to feature at Southend or Coventry this Saturday.

“James just has a slight problem with his knee that he did in Germany,” said Lambert. “I don’t think he’ll be ready before the weekend. Elliott picked up a knock in a clash on the training field in Germany which is giving him a little bit of a cause for concern. He won’t be available for Southend.”

Despite the result, City’s first pre-season defeat and first goal conceded, Lambert said: “It was definitely a step up in terms of opposition and I was delighted with some of the things we did – the way we played and some of the possession was great.

“We made a lot of changes to give people game time and it will be the same on Thursday and the same on Saturday.”