City boss Paul Lambert this morning took City’s latest injury blow firmly on the chin and concentrated instead on how one might prise a huge result out of an away trip to Premiership giants Chelsea.
Newly-arrived Spanish defender Daniel Ayala is the injury blow – ruled out for a “few months” with the knee injury he sustained in the 0-4 Carling Cup reverse against MK Dons on Tuesday night.
On the plus side, the injury does not need surgery; on the minus side, the one-time Liverpool and Sevilla starlet had barely been in the building a week following his £800,000 switch from Anfield before he heads for a lengthy spell in the treatment room.
All of which Lambert could have done without as he re-groups his troops for tomorrow’s trip to Stamford Bridge.
He at least has Leon Barnett back from his one-match ban; Elliott Ward should be that much closer to a return after the forthcoming international break; in Ritchie de Laet he now has a goal-scoring centre-half in his midst – so little sign of the summer blues from Colney this morning.
“Daniel’s out for a few months,” Lambert revealed this morning, with playmaker Wes Hoolahan also carrying a knock into the Chelsea game.
“It is a blow – but that’s football,” said the City chief. “You’ve just got to get your head round it and whoever plays will do their best.”
He has, of course, until next Wednesday to decide whether he needs to strengthen again before the transfer window slams shut. The implication was that Lambert wouldn’t be rushed back to the summer sales.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “Elliott Ward is, hopefully, not too far away from being fit, either.”
Hoolahan’s knock was far less serious; a slight hamstring strain that – given the fortnight break to follow – might find discretion being the manager’s watchword.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he’s feeling this morning. If he’s OK, then we’ll see.”
Someone of Hoolahan’s ilk – someone at whose feet the ball tends to stick – could well have their uses in West London. Norwich need to retain the ball as much as they can; if only to give themselves a breather from the inevitable storm that will break around their own penalty area in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
Lambert and his coaching staff need to watch few videos, read little by way of scouting reports to know what to expect – whatever side presents itself come the weekend.
“No-one expects anything of us,” he readily admitted. “It’ll be a brilliant atmosphere – and you’re up against one of the favourites to win the league.
“But we’ll go there and like any other game, we’ll go there and try and win.”
Lambert was under few illusions as to the task he and his Premiership new-boys faced.
“They are ones that are always going to be there or thereabouts; they have a new manager – I know the magnitude of the task,” said the City chief. “You’re up against world class players and a world class side, but we’ve waited two years to play this kind of team.
“And it’s our job to try and cause an upset – it’s our job to try and go and win. And that’s what we’re going to try and do. We’re not going to go there and be frightened by it. We have to try and go and enjoy it and try and go and win.”
How the manager sets out his stall will be fascinating to see.
The likelihood is that few of those that featured against the Dons will start; it will be back to the Stoke City ‘hard core’ for the trip to Chelsea.
Bradley Johnson will add some bite in midfield; Andrew Crofts energy and intensity. Grant Holt will look to ruffle a few of John Terry’s feathers; Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett will add the width and the delivery to try and stretch the Blues; Steve Morison may start – if only to ensure that the Canaries have another outlet high up the pitch.
Kyle Naughton will return at full-back; de Laet and Barnett are the likely pairing to start at centre-half.
It will, inevitably, require a monumental effort on the part of all concerned; concentration will be key – as will avoiding the kind of individual errors that popped up in the Wigan clash. Just one slip and City could be brutally punished.
But this is, to quote Lambert, the nature of the Premiership beast. This is what makes the Premier League one of the toughest leagues in the world to compete in; and what makes Chelsea one of the toughest teams in it.
This is what it is all about. Chelsea (a).