Norwich City-Fulham Preview
(AP) -- LONDON (SE): Chris Hughton will take charge of Norwich City for the first time in a competitive match when the Canaries face Fulham at Craven Cottage on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Hughton's success with Birmingham City in the Championship last season earned him a move to the top flight of English football, but the popular manager will have his work cut out if he is to replicate his new club's impressive performance under previous manager Paul Lambert.
"I have no point to prove, the challenge is one which we as a club will have in the Premier League," said Hughton ahead of Saturday's game. "I am really looking forward to those challenges.
"There will be a group of people who look at the objective as making sure we retain Premier League status, but there will also be some who will expect just what they saw last season. Ultimately we are in a group of clubs who will be fighting to make sure the prime objective is status in this division, then we'll see what happens."
With a change of manager and a squad that has been disrupted by the Grant Holt transfer speculation over the summer, many are suggesting that it could be a case of second season syndrome for Norwich, but midfielder Bradley Johnson believes that the team will all be looking to push in the same direction once again this term.
"The manager has brought his new staff in and it's the same as before - they want us to work hard and get in people's faces," said Johnson. "The way we play isn't going to change - we're a bunch of hungry lads and we all want to do the best we possibly can.
"It has been a long and tough pre-season, but we have been working hard to stay in this league once again, and we've got our heads down, had a break, and we'll try to continue what we did last year. We had a good season last year, finished in 12th, and we want to kick on again, but the main thing is staying in the league."
Fulham's top half-finish last season was the only time in the club's history that they have managed consecutive top ten spots in the Premier League, and with Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric brought in to add quality to the attack, the signs are promising for the Cottagers. However, much of the attention in pre-season has been focussed on last season's big money signing Bryan Ruiz, and the talented Costa Rican believes he is ready to really make an impact for Fulham.
"I'm looking forward to the beginning of the season," said Ruiz in an interview with the club website. "Preparation has been good and I'm feeling strong. I want to avoid any injuries and play as much as possible this season.
"My injury is in the past. I haven't thought about it as I have no pain. I'm just focusing on getting ready for the new season and I'm feeling really good."
This is the first time that Fulham and Norwich have met in a season opener, and the Canaries haven't won their first match in any of the last nine seasons. The Cottagers are undefeated in the last ten meetings with Norwich - a run that stretches back to 1986 in all competitions.
Updated August 16, 2012