Sunderland's revival under Martin O'Neill no surprise to Norwich City's Paul Lambert
PUBLISHED: 11:12 01 February 2012
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Martin O'Neill is still "the gaffer" to Norwich City boss Paul Lambert - but he will be trying to get the better of his old boss tonight.
The Canaries take on O’Neill’s Sunderland at the Stadium of Light (8pm) looking to stretch their unbeaten run away from home to six matches, having not returned home empty-handed since the 5-1 defeat Manchester City more than eight weeks ago.
Lambert was captain during the Irishman’s reign at Celtic and regards him as one of the best managers he played under.
“I would never call him by his first name in case I get fined still. I have too much respect for him for what he has done,” said Lambert.
“Those five years were a major part of my career and you learn an awful lot. I had a great time at Celtic under him.
“I think you take bits from every manager you have worked under. He is one of the best I played under, no doubt about that. I’m pretty sure if you asked all the lads at Celtic in that era they would say the same.
“If I could get a smidgen of his success somewhere along the line then I would be doing all right. He has won things at the highest level, he has been in a European final, his career was great as a footballer himself.
“Virtually every player who has played under him will say what an impact he has had on their careers.”
But while much of the pre-match focus is on the two managers, Lambert insists it is the players who will determine the result.
“I think the gaffer will say himself. It is not about me against him. It is Sunderland v Norwich,” said the City boss.
“I have to try to win for Norwich and he has to try to win for Sunderland. It will be strange because of the relationship I had with him.
“When Norwich were in League One, I’m pretty sure facing him was the furthest thing from my mind. It’s arrived and we’ll see what happens.”
Sunderland’s revival under O’Neill has left them just two points behind Lambert’s men going into tonight’s game, so a home win would take them above City.
“I think you asked the question when he took over about what would happen. There was only one answer, he would take them up the league,” said Lambert. “It is not a surprise to me what he has done. I worked under him for five years so I know the impact that he has at football clubs.”
City’s away form is impressive, however. After Premier League draws at Everton and Wolves, they took six points from visits to Queens Park Rangers and West Bromwich Albion before Saturday’s second success at The Hawthorns in the FA Cup.
“Whether we are harder to beat away from home I don’t know,” said Lambert . “We’ve had a lot of luck as well, which you need away from home because the opposition are going to have more of the ball.
“We have had to defend strongly when we were called upon. Sometimes that is not good enough at the end of the day and you get beaten by a bit of skill and good play from the other team and you hold your hand up.”
Goalkeeper John Ruddy looks set to return despite 19-year-old Jed Steer’s excellent debut at West Bromwich, while full-back Kyle Naughton is available again. Midfield pair Bradley Johnson and Andrew Surman and striker Steve Morison could also return after being rested for the FA Cup game.
“John has been playing fantastically well of late. I have got a rough idea of what team I will play but it just shows that if Jed is required then he won’t let us down,” said Lambert.