A strong first half display counted for little for Bournemouth on Tuesday as they slid to a 3-1 defeat at home to West Ham United, proving unable to cope with the quality of Dimitri Payet in particular, with goalkeeper Artur Boruc forced into some fine saves which served to keep the scoreline somewhat respectable. They are now just three points and two places above the bottom three, a gap that could be reduced even further by the time they kick-off here.
Manager Eddie Howe decided to hand a debut to new £10m striker Benik Afobe, who has all the makings of becoming a successful signing for the club and could prove instrumental in helping them retain their place among the elite. However, he got off to a nervous start as two very presentable chances went begging, so if similar openings come his way here it is essential that the former Arsenal youngster shows the required composure – this could be a crucial game in the context of the season.
There did not seem to be any reason for Norwich to be unduly concerned about life half an hour into their midweek encounter at Stoke City, but then Gary O’Neil chose to put forward his contender for the most unnecessarily stupid challenge the Premier League is likely to see all year, and was promptly dismissed. It was not becoming of such an experienced campaigner, and despite Jonathan Howson’s stunning strike briefly restoring parity after the break, it was to cost the Canaries dearly.
Manager Alex Neil was rightly angry as it put paid to any realistic chance of his side moving eight points above the drop zone, but if they can defend well in this one Norwich will certainly stand a chance. Striker Dieumerci Mbokani provides a real physical presence and his battle with home centre-back Steve Cook promises to be intriguing, as is the prospect of seeing Lewis Grabban taking to the field for Bournemouth have just rejoined the club following a year and-a-half at Carrow Road.
The home side have concerns over the fitness of Matt Ritchie, who will be assessed before kick-off. If he is not fit to play, Roma loanee Juan Iturbe could take his place.
O’Neil begins his three-match ban for Norwich, so Nathan Redmond could come into a team which has no new injuries to contend with.