Ryan Bennett is ready to come of age for Norwich City
Ryan Bennett has more reason than most to relish Norwich City's latest Premier League sojourn.
The elegant centre-back finished last season admirably blocking out the light from the considerable shadow cast by the injured Michael Turner. When Sebastien Bassong's regular defensive lynchpin hobbled away from the action in the early stages of City's pivotal home Premier League game against struggling Reading in late April, a palpable hush descended around Carrow Road.
The sight of, arguably, Norwich's most influential performer of 2013 exiting the stage prematurely with the Canaries' top flight status still far from assured generated genuine cause for alarm. Bennett was cast from the role of patient understudy to leading man, and the former England Under-21 international responded superbly. A maiden Premier League goal in the second half of that game helped sink the Royals, but it was Bennett's mature displays over the run-in, while Turner remained out, that really marked a watershed moment in his City career.
When the pressure was at its height in the defining home finale against West Brom, Bennett stood firm along with the rest of his teammates to overwhelm a frankly disinterested Baggies' outfit to guarantee survival. City player-of-the-year Bassong followed Turner under the knife after managing a knee problem for months. Bassong, however, remains a major doubt for the new campaign's opening day test against Everton on August 17 after missing the entire pre-season schedule. Turner only made his first appearance after a shoulder operation in last week's 2-2 friendly outing against Braga in northern Portugal.
Chris Hughton has also sanctioned the departures of back-up central defenders Leon Barnett and Elliott Ward over this summer recess. Bennett, along with Dani Ayala, are the chief support acts to the established order. Ayala was farmed out on-loan to Championship club Nottingham Forest last season and it would come as little surprise if Hughton opts for a similar experiment in the weeks ahead.
City had identified Ajax's Toby Alderweireld in a frenetic trading process that has already seen seven new signings, but the Dutch defender would appear cool on the prospect of a Carrow Road switch. Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker's versatility mark them out as possible alternatives in central positions, but Bennett is in prime position to build on a positive flourish to the last campaign.
Bassong and Turner deserve top billing at the heart of Norwich's defence, but both have endured an injury-disrupted close season and there was more than a hint of growing maturity in the way 23-year-old Bennett handled himself when press-ganged into emergency service. The rawness and the inexperience that has punctuated his Norwich career at times serve only to disguise a prospect who has all the attributes to operate in the Premier League. Bennett has now had 18 months to acclimatise after leaving Peterborough. His time may just have come.