City boss Paul Lambert has promised to stick to his JPT guns and chop and change the side for tomorrow’s southern area semi-final at Southampton.
The Scot has so far used the competition to blood some fringe players as well as resting some of his regulars who may be carrying a niggle, with Grant Holt and Jens Berthel Askou struggling this time around.
And despite the Canaries being just three games from Wembley, he’s not about to change tact now. Getting promotion from League One is the overwhelming goal.
“My main priority is the league. I won’t make a secret of that,” he told reporters this morning. “I can’t play lads who aren’t fully recovered from the Saturday. I just have to see who’s fit and who’s not.
“I’ve got to balance it out, we haven’t got a big enough squad to go week in, week out. As I’ve said before if there are lads carrying knocks then I’ve got to watch their welfare and protect some of them from playing a lot of games.”
It does, of course, offer some of the players on the periphery a chance to shine. And the likes of Stephen Hughes, Cody McDonald and Michael Nelson will be desperate to get some game time.
“It can work your way. I don’t have any problems throwing them in because they are very capable of doing well. I don’t have any problem with changing it.”
What he may have a problem with, however, is a resurgent Saints side and Alan Pardew has been fielding his strongest side in every round so far. But whatever team the former West Ham boss puts out, Lambert knows that Southampton (a) is as tough a test as you’re likely to get at this level.
“Everybody knows they are a huge football club. They are where they are by default because of the ten point deduction.
“If they hadn’t of had that they’d be round about it. They’ve spent an awful lot of money and you’d expect them to be up there.
“They’ve got a number of good players and it’s a hard place to go. But we know what to expect; we’ve been down there before and it’s semi-final – we’re looking to go through.”
One player who emerged from the 3-3 Yeovil thriller with plenty of credit is Gary Doherty. It’s not often a centre-back scores a brace and Lambert admitted that his form and attitude, plus the goal threat from all areas of the pitch, was pleasing.
“It takes the pressure off when they can chip in with a few as well. The front three have had all of the attention because of the goals they have scored but they need help from other areas of the pitch and thankfully he came up with the goods.
“His response [to being left out of the team] is the one you look for. There are only two ways you can go – you either prove that I was wrong, or you wilt.
“And him and Wes have certainly proved me wrong, which is fine. The two of them have been colossal for us.”
After the trip to St Mary’s, City then face two, vital Carrow Road encounters against promotion rivals Huddersfield and Millwall. But the Canary chief isn’t planning on doing anything different ahead of the traditionally hectic Christmas period. It’ll be business as usual.
“It doesn’t really change anything for ourselves. It’s our job to win football matches and that’s what we’ll try and do. We don’t have the same holidays as a lot of other jobs do and we have to play football matches.”
And those football matches are, according to Lambert, in a new and improved League One. To be fair, it certainly does have a more glamorous feel to it this year.
With £1million players and former Premier League giants in the mix, the City boss admitted it was a ‘very strong’ division.
“Oh yes, it’s moved on tenfold that’s for sure. You look at the clubs that are in it and there are some major, major football clubs. It’s very strong this year.”
He did, however, have a word of warning for the big boys. ‘Don’t expect to have it all your own way’ was the gist of it.
“Everyone expects the big ones to be up there but you don’t have a divine right. Everyone thinks that Charlton, Norwich, Southampton and Leeds should be up there.
“But it doesn’t quite work like that. We’ll see where everybody is come May.”