On Saturday City boss Paul Lambert delivered the old gag about ‘You reporters should bring your boots on Tuesday night, you could get a game…’
But as he surveyed his squad ahead of tomorrow night’s return to the Priestfield and Norwich’s Johnstone Paints Trophy clash with the Gills, it was clear that he wasn’t joking.
Bodies were becoming distinctly thin on the ground and with the rules of the competition demanding that teams field a minimum of six regular starters in their line-up, so his team was starting to pick itself as both Michael Spillane and skipper Grant Holt fell by the wayside in the wake of Saturday’s 5-1 dismissal of Bristol Rovers.
“There’s about 19 of them in there at the minute,” said Lambert, quizzed at Colney this morning as to how the battered and the bruised were faring.
“No, we’re struggling – definitely,” he said, albeit with at least half an eye on Saturday’s long haul north to Carlisle.
Spillane’s pulled hamstring was of more concern than Holt’s bruised calf.
“I’m not sure how long it will be – it’ll be a few weeks I think, that one,” said Lambert, already without the services of Jon Otsemobor with his own hamstring worries. Given that he’ll need all hands on deck at Carlisle, the City chief is unlikely to rush anyone back tomorrow night.
Norwich might be ‘in it to win it…’ but the greater need remains that of finding a ticket back to the Championship next May.
“He’s been playing at centre-back and right-back and for the last few games he’s been doing really, really well so it is a blow,” said Lambert, as one of the famed ‘Luton Two’ joined the queue to the treatment room.
“There’s a few of them in there that are not going to make it so maybe we’ll need to look at the Youth side again.
“It’s going to be a big, big ask – one game you might get away with it. And needs must at times.”
Korey Smith can at least step into that right-back slot as he did on Saturday; that, in turn, would then enable Stephen Hughes to top up his match fitness alongside Darel Russell. Or rather that would be the theory; Russell, too, departed early on Saturday…
Tom Adeyemi could, therefore, add to his collection of first team starts as the likes of Matt Gill (knee) and Owain Tudur Jones (calf) remain stuck on the sidelines.
“Stephen has just come back from his injury, so he’ll be round about it as well. But, as I say, there’s not that many there; I’ll just have to see who’s there.
“But whoever plays, they’ll do their best to try and get through.”
Declan Rudd is also unavailable through England Under-19 duty; the kid Canary keeper will also miss this weekend’s trip to Carlisle handing the on-loan Fraser Forster the chance to reclaim the No1 slot after serving out his suspension for seeing red the last time he travelled to Kent.
“When the international team call upon you, you can’t stop it,” said the City chief. “You’ve got the five day ruling as well.
“So it’s disappointing for us, but it’s great for Declan to go and play for his country.”
The likes of Rudd, Adeyemi, Smith and Luke Daley have all proved something of a bonus for the in-coming manager; he never knew that they were there. Now more and more people are beginning to take note of the Class of 2009.
“There’s no doubt that there’s some young lads there that might go on and do something in the game,” said Lambert, with the usual provisos.
“If they keep their feet on the ground; if they keep progressing. Then they’ve got a great chance.
“If you look at the team since we’ve been here Dec’s been in it, Tom’s been in it; Luke Daley’s been in it. So there’s a handful there who have come through the ranks which is a unique thing now in modern day football. For a football club to get as many young ones coming through.
“So if you give me 15 years I might get them there. But I don’t think I’m going to get 15 years…”