Norwich City need to rebound from Stoke loss for a visit to Bournemouth
Gary O'Neil's red card in Stoke City defeat ramps up the hype for Norwich City's weekend Bournemouth tussle
Norwich City's miserable 3-1 Premier League defeat against Stoke City on Wednesday merely heightens the sense of anticipation ahead of this weekend's trip to Bournemouth.
Gary O'Neil's rash, red card after hacking down Ibrahim Afellay at the Britannia Stadium, effectively sealed his side's fate. The Canaries manfully tried to resist with 10 men for over an hour, but Jonathan Walters opened the scoring four minutes after the interval and despite a stunning 20-yard equaliser from Jonny Howson, Joselu and Ryan Bennett's own goal ensured Mark Hughes' men prevailed.
Alex Neil stopped short of publicly condemning the experienced midfielder, but there was enough in his words to sense O'Neil will know his actions denied Norwich the chance to maintain their impressive recent Premier League upturn.
The team were confident in possession and aggressive in their attacking ambition, prior to O'Neil's rush of blood, but bar Howson's wonderful intervention there was a crushing inevitability to the outcome once he departed in the 31st minute.
O'Neil will now miss the next three Premier League games, starting with a weekend trip to relegation rivals Bournemouth that contains so many delicious sub-plots. This is a game with more than three precious points at stake.
Chief among said sub-plots is perhaps the swift reunion with Lewis Grabban, who completed an £8 million move back to the south-coast earlier this week and is eligible to face his former employers.
Neil made it clear Grabban's time at Norwich had run its course after a summer saga involving the Cherries, three rejected transfer enquiries and then a bizarre disappearing act from the player prior to August's Capital One Cup win at Rotherham during the height of Bournemouth's close season interest.
Grabban made only the briefest of impressions on the Canaries' Premier League odyssey in the intervening period. A goalscoring display in the stirring 1-1 Premier League draw against Arsenal was followed by an ineffectual 45 minutes in a 2-0 reverse at Watford that proved his swansong.
City made £4.5m profit on a player who never endeared himself to the Norwich support, despite the notable achievement of scoring in a Championship derby win over arch rivals Ipswich last season, in a campaign that ended in promotion for both his old and new clubs.
Grabban was an acquired taste for many, but although the frontman could never win a popularity contest with Norwich's supporters, it would be the bitterest of pills to digest should he make a decisive intervention this coming weekend.
You can be sure Eddie Howe will appreciate the damage Grabban can potentially inflict on Norwich, not just in 90 minutes but in the Premier League run-in.
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Neil will hope for a repeat of his only previous visit to Bournemouth on his first day in the job after replacing Neil Adams in January 2015. Neil was supposed to watch last season's Championship tussle from the directors' box, after only joining the club a day or two earlier, and having played no part in City's preparations or team selection.
But once Jonny Howson had been red carded in the second half of a game poised at 1-1, Neil emerged down in the technical area to inspire his new club to a remarkable 2-1 win. City would settle for history repeating itself. Bournemouth, it is worth remembering, were unable to hold on against West Ham earlier this the week with both Grabban and fellow new striker signing Benik Afobe in the home ranks.
With so much at stake, it is guaranteed to be a tense affair. Neil has won both his career tussles with Howe in the battle of the two youngest Premier League managers and City have already shown their resilience at places like Anfield and Old Trafford. It promises to be a game to savour for so many reasons.
Paddy is the chief Norwich City correspondent for media group Archant. He has covered the Canaries for more than 10 years. Twitter: @paddyjdavitt.