Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce has admitted his affection for the Carling Cup, even though he is expected to tinker with his team for tonight’s second round clash with the Canaries at Ewood Park.
The Premier League outfit reached the semi-finals last season and for clubs of their ilk, it represents the best chance of a Wembley appearance and possible European qualification.
But like Lambert, ‘Big Sam’ will chop and change tonight, with injuries to David Dunn, Keith Andrews, Vince Grella and Pascal Chimbonda hampering his preparations.
“Some players can then stake a claim for a place in the side when needed,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph. “As well as we played against Birmingham, somebody might stand out against Norwich that might stake a claim for a place.
“It is a lovely competition to be involved in. I think at the start of the campaign we all look forward to it for two reasons. One, it is the shortest route to Wembley and it is the shortest route to Europe.
“It is a fantastic competition which we are more capable of trying to benefit from because our players are fresh from pre-season and from building up to the new season.
“We had a fantastic run last year and we want to do the same again this year. Norwich will play to their best capability and we will have to make sure we overcome them and continue in this competition.”
And in an ominous warning for the Canaries, Allardyce believes his players are all the better for their last-four heartbreak at the hands of Villa last year.
“I believe the players here have far greater experience than they did last year. The players we played in the Carling Cup that got us to the semi-final were squad members and we were finding out more about them as time went by.
“We didn’t know each other that well, we have got to know each other a lot better – the only problem we have now is injuries.
“That is a big miss for us so obviously we will have to play a lot of the players we did on Saturday and those who haven’t played in the Premier League as much will get the chance to stake their claim for Arsenal at home.”
Allardyce believes he has the squad to cope with a cup and top flight push, but that wasn’t always the case during his time at Bolton, where Premier League survival was the main aim. The Trotters did, however, make the Carling Cup final in 2004.
“If you have the squad to cope with that and go for a cup competition, which I think we have, then fine. But if you haven’t you use your priorities for what your bosses say.
“Very often the media blames the manager if you go out early in the cups, they did in my early days at Bolton when we weren’t capable of competing in any of the cup competitions if we wanted to stay in the Premier League.
“When your bosses sit you down and say ‘stay in the Premier League at all costs’ that becomes your major priority. They can hide behind the manager if they like but it is their club in terms of they are the owners and tell you how it should be.
“There is no point in winning the FA Cup and Carling Cup and getting relegated because that just takes your squad into financial devastation.”