Norwich duo Hoolahan and Smith ‘needed rest’

Norwich City boss Paul Lambert insisted Wes Hoolahan and Korey Smith were in need of a rest after leaving them out of his line-up against Middlesbrough.

Hoolahan failed to start a match for the first time this season and 19-year-old Smith was missing for the first time since the Carling Cup defeat at Blackburn, playing only the final 10 minutes as a substitute for Anthony McNamee in the Canaries' hard-earned 1-0 win. McNamee and David Fox were brought into the eleven as Lambert switched from a diamond formation to 4-4-2.

'We freshened it up because the same group of lads have been going week in, week out for us,' said Lambert. 'The only reason I did it was to give lads a game who we thought could go and win it, and to give Wes and Korey a break because they've played nearly every single game for me for the best part of 14 months.'

With five senior players injured and five out on loan, Lambert's squad has been stretched in recent weeks.

'We need everybody – we don't have an awfully big squad because young kids are out on loan who are nowhere near ready for that level of football at the moment, and experienced are out lads but they need the games,' he said.

The change of formation meant McNamee played on the right with Andrew Crofts and Fox in central midfield.

'I think the modern game dictates that you've got to adapt to different systems. The lads know how to play 4-4-2, they know how to play a diamond – any system I've really asked them to play they've performed,' said Lambert. 'Macca played and gave us that width and put in some terrific balls for us and his ball for the goal was exceptional, so luckily enough it worked.'

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The Canaries, bouncing back from the 2-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace, could thank a solid display from the back five for their sixth clean sheet of the season, with Elliott Ward returning from suspension and in commanding form.

'I thought Elliott coming back and Leon (Barnett) were brilliant for us,' said Lambert. 'Russell Martin had his best game this season and his performances have been a really high standard.

'I was delighted with the back four. To lose Adam Drury is a big void to fill, but Steven Smith has come in and done fine.

'I think we defended strongly when we had to. It was a big performance to dig deep after the disappointment of the other night. When you get beaten you've got to try to do your best to win the next one and the lads have responded terrifically well again.'

Lambert had some words of comfort for Middlesbrough, now third from bottom after taking one point from seven away games.

'I think their position is false, I really do,' said Lambert. 'When you look at the resources they have, whoever gets that job I'm pretty sure will have a good club behind them and will have a lot of resources and I am sure will drag them up because they're a good side.'