City report card: Injury battles continue but captain showed what he’s capable of
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a second season of injury frustration for defender Grant Hanley, David Freezer assesses the Norwich City captain’s future prospects, as the Scot works his way back to full fitness after another injury problem.
It proved to be another frustrating season for Norwich City captain Grant Hanley - but the Scot was at least able to remind supporters of his full ability during the course of a strange Premier League season.
The end of his first campaign with the Canaries saw Hanley voted runner-up behind James Maddison in the Player of the Season voting and he was then appointed skipper ahead of 2018-19, replacing Ivo Pinto as Daniel Farke’s leader of choice.
However, six matches into the season a thigh injury was picked up and kept him out for almost three months. A red card against Portsmouth in the FA Cup in January then compounded his woes and the Scotland international was left watching much of City’s title success from the substitutes bench.
All of which meant that the former Blackburn and Newcastle defender knew he had a big task on his hands to force his way back into Farke’s team if he wanted to play regularly after promotion to the top flight.
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Yet with Christoph Zimmermann ruled out after knee surgery, Ben Godfrey suffering an injury scare and Timm Klose being eased back to full fitness, it was only left-back Jamal Lewis who completed more minutes during pre-season than Hanley last year.
So when the big opening night rolled around it was the Scot sporting the armband and leading Norwich out at Anfield. Within just seven minutes Hanley was cursing his luck again, after misjudging a Divock Origi cross from the left to inadvertently turn the ball past Tim Krul and score the first goal of the Premier League season for the eventual champions.
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As the Scot held his head in his hands in disbelief, Jurgen Klopp’s team were just warming up - and eased into a 4-0 lead before the break. Teemu Pukki converted a fine Emi Buendia through-ball to restore a bit of respectability in the second half, as some encouraging attacking play was overwhelmed by the slick hosts.
That ensured Hanley and Godfrey were fired up for the challenge when Newcastle pitched up at Carrow Road the following weekend, putting in a display full of aggression and strength that combined with a Pukki hat-trick to leave Norwich on the verge of a jubilant 3-0 win in the sunshine. There was to be a sting in the tail though.
City’s captain got his feet in a muddle in the third minute of injury-time as Jonjo Shelvey was played into the penalty area and stumbled over, allowing the midfielder to curl past Krul. It was only a late consolation but it was a cruel way to see a clean sheet slip away.
After an exciting 3-2 home defeat to Chelsea, it became apparent all wasn’t quite right for Hanley however, initially missing the 2-0 defeat to West Ham with a groin injury as Zimmermann returned - and then was injured again by a bad tackle.
That saw him remain on the bench for three further Premier League games, with Zimmermann and Klose both ruled out, but only as emergency cover.
Hanley finally had to admit defeat and was sent for a double surgery, on his groin and a hernia, keeping him out of action for three months.
It was hugely frustrating for the player and his head coach in the midst of a full blown defensive injury crisis - but the surgery did at least work.
The powerful centre-back returned just before Christmas, as the injury curse moved on to Godfrey, and he quickly looked more mobile and closer to full match sharpness.
He would start 11 of the next 12 league games, bringing an obvious improvement to City’s aerial abilities alongside Zimmermann. It was however during a time when Farke’s team just couldn’t quite keep hold of a lead.
Wolves fought back to win 2-1 at Carrow Road and after a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa on Boxing Day, both Tottenham and Crystal Palace hit back to earn a point in Norfolk and pile even more frustration on the Canaries.
It was Hanley who dropped out after a 4-0 drubbing at Manchester United but Godfrey’s red card during the 1-0 win over Bournemouth brought him back.
Unfortunately losing 2-1 at Spurs, drawing 0-0 at Newcastle and narrowly losing 1-0 to Liverpool continued the better defensive displays but also continued the frustration.
The 28-year-old then powered in his only goal of the season with a header during the win at Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round before playing all of the fifth round triumph at Tottenham.
Defeats at Wolves and Sheffield United either side of an impressive 1-0 win over Leicester saw Hanley being hailed by many as one of City’s best performers - but then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.
The defender took his off-pitch duties as skipper seriously, speaking admirably on behalf of his team-mates in various interviews during a difficult time. Yet as the restart loomed in June, another injury blow arrived.
Damaging a hamstring during a warm-up game at Tottenham brought surgery and a month on crutches, with Hanley watching some games from the sidelines as the Canaries imploded to 10 consecutive defeats and a despondent relegation.
He’s said in a recent interview that he hopes to be fit during the early stages of next season and Farke will be desperately hoping that surgery has proved successful.
With a contract until 2023, Hanley has proved he is capable of hitting the high notes for City but his fitness will dictate whether he can build significantly on the 62 appearances he has made for the club so far.