Canaries boss Lambert ready for Liberty challenge
PUBLISHED: 07:58 11 February 2012 | UPDATED: 09:51 11 February 2012
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Swansea may be feted for their new age philosophy, but Paul Lambert is quick to point out the modern-day footballer is alive and flourishing within Norwich's squad.
Brendan Rodgers’ boys have drawn comparisons with Barcelona for the style and panache of their midfield artistry which leaves the Canaries attempting to do something Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea have all failed to achieve at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon.
That Lambert’s squad travelled west with more than blind faith is underlined not only by their better league position, but last weekend’s reaffirmation against Bolton the Scot has a special group of players under his command.
City’s defence had three men out-of-position, but still retained the capacity to keep a clean sheet against the Trotters’ muscular frontline. Lambert conceded Kyle Naughton’s emergency shift at centre back and Elliott Bennett’s latest positional switch may have been by accident rather than design – but to perform major surgery in the midst of battle speaks volumes for the personnel fighting the Canary corner.
“It was needs must,” said Lambert. “The one thing about Kyle is he is a terrific footballer, so what he might lack in height he gives you something different on the ball. He gives you great energy, he is quick and comfortable in possession. Bennett is another. Going into play right back was difficult, but he was excellent. They are good players, really top players who are earning a reputation for themselves. They are good characters as well. That is important. I can rely on them to perform. Even if it never worked on Saturday I couldn’t be too harsh on them because they are not playing in their right positions.
“Whoever comes in I expect to go and perform, which the lads will, they never let me down. I’m a great believer in that. I don’t feel weakened or anything like that (when we have to make changes). That is all you can ask at the end of the day is for people to give you everything they have got. I don’t have any ounce of trepidation about putting anybody in.”
Dani Ayala’s confirmed absence with a hamstring tear likely set to sideline the Spaniard for the rest of the month leaves Lambert with another defensive conundrum to solve. The Scot plans to make a late decision on Zak Whitbread (hamstring) this afternoon, but Leon Barnett and Elliott Ward are ready for duty.
“Both will come into my thinking,” said Lambert. “Elliott has trained really, really fine for the last number of weeks now. He had 60 or 70 minutes in a reserve game so I wouldn’t have any fear about throwing him in. Leon is the same. He is fit, ready to go. I know it is tough for him not playing as many games as he would probably liked, but he has played a major part in what has happened to this club.
“Wardy has had his ups and downs like everybody else with a long term injury. You get the rehab to a certain point and then you hit a brick wall. But you climb over it and kick on again. I’ve had chats with him to keep his spirits up. He is ready if I am asking him to play. The knee kept on flaring up every time he trained but that has been dismissed now.”
Lambert is under no illusions the men in front of John Ruddy will be tested by Swansea’s brand of possession football.
“I think it has been well-documented how they play, but if you ask Brendan he would want to win more games than not,” he said. “They are getting lots of plaudits, rightly so, for the way they play but if they were playing the way they have been playing and hadn’t picked up one single point, I think he would be pretty sure to say he’d have changed his philosophy to pick up points as quickly as he can.
“Swansea have beaten Arsenal and got points against Tottenham and Chelsea. If they are doing it to that calibre of team it shows you how well they are doing at the minute. You have to respect what you are going into. We have our own gameplan what we want to do, but I won’t change my philosophy about trying to bed ourselves in.”
Rodgers has managed to guide Swansea into mid-table security despite the handicap of coming through the Championship play-offs last summer – but Lambert is adamant it was his side having to play catch-up.
“If you look at it, Swansea have had a head start on us because they were in the Championship last year,” he said. “We have had to come from League One and then go again so that is great credit to us to do it successfully, which is not an easy thing. I have a lot of time for Brendan Rodgers. I really have. I think he is a terrific guy. The way he has done it. He is a really humble guy but he has had a lot of success.
“We had to come up from the third tier and go again. To go and do it in the Championship with the first throw of the dice, brings a level of expectation that people just expect it to happen. If Norwich stay in this league that will surpass anything. It will beat winning League One, it will beat promotion.”
Ayala joins left-back Marc Tierney on the sidelines this afternoon. The defender was forced to abort his recent comeback following a reserve outing after suffering a reaction in training to the groin injury sustained against Wolves prior to Christmas.
“I’m not overly concerned,” said Lambert. “He has had an injection in it and hopefully that will calm things down.”
Midfielder Jonny Howson is also inching his way back towards fitness from his knee injury, although Lambert confirmed he is still working away from the main group. Striker James Vaughan may need another reserve run out before he is ready to come back into the first team fold after his longer term knee problem.
“He is not too far. He is training okay. He hasn’t had the games, but he is a bit like Wardy in the sense they are training okay,” said Lambert. “I think he does (need a reserve game) but yesterday I thought he looked pretty sharp in training.”
n City midfielder Wes Hoolahan was yesterday left out of the Republic of Ireland’s 24-man squad for this month’s friendly against the Czech Republic in Dublin. Sunderland winger James McClean was the surprise omission from the squad . The 22-year-old was expected to win a first senior call-up .