City centre-half Elliott Ward gave a telling glimpse of life inside a Paul Lambert dressing room after this weekend’s classic game of two halves.
Two goals adrift and looking all at sea against a decent Burnley outfit at the break, come the start of the second period and Norwich looked a side transformed.
Back on the front foot with the introduction of winger Anthony McNamee, goals from fellow substitute Chrissy Martin and the luckless Andrew Crofts ensured that City have still yet to lose back-to-back games.
Once again, Lambert’s words and deeds had pulled a point out of the fire. It might have left the Canaries dropping into seventh and – for now – out of the play-off places, but it proved yet again that they have a manager to reckon with.
Ward, certainly, is a big fan of the Gaffer.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of him,” said the six-foot defender. “He’s been brilliant for me since I’ve been here. And when he tells you to something, you go and do it.”
So what, exactly, was said at the interval? Were the walls stripped of paint? Or did they have a fresh coating of sugar-laden tea?
“It wasn’t tea cups and shouting,” Ward said, asked as to what Lambert had said at the interval.
It can’t solely have been down to McNamee’s arrival on the park and that switch to a flatter, midfield four – now with more natural width and delivery.
“But he definitely told us what we have to do – and when he speaks, we listen.”
Lambert clearly knew that at 2-0 down, the next goal would almost certainly win it. Courtesy of Martin’s class finish and Crofts’ late strike, the Canaries almost did. McNamee would hit the inside of the near post; Martin would go close again.
“We see that every day in training – he almost got the winner,” said Ward, as Martin did the manager’s bidding and hauled the Canaries back into an absorbing contest.
“He [Lambert] just said that the next goal is the biggest part of the game – and if we get it, then he believes that we will get back in it.” As it duly proved. And here was another telling line: “As soon as he believes it, we all believe it.”
Getting back to simples helped.
“It was all about pushing ourselves; getting tighter to them and taking risks. We’d done that and we didn’t stop till the last minute.”
By when they were down to ten men – Crofts having seen yellow for the second time in seven minutes; in between he had grabbed the all-important leveller as the Canaries – roared on by some magnificent support – pushed on till the end.
“It wasn’t just Macca [McNamee],” Ward suggested. “We all just went for it. As a whole team.
“The full-backs; the wing-backs… I became a left-back. Barney [Barnett] was bit of a right-back, so we just went for it as we had nothing to lose.
“And I think sometimes when we play like that we’re unstoppable. But there are only certain times that you can do it – and we were 2-0 down so we had to.
“If we get a goal early then obviously the game pans out different; we were on top; they get the killer goal and then we couldn’t get near them for ten minutes. They got another goal and then, to be honest, I thought they picked us off and were very comfortable in the latter part of the first-half.
“But we knew that if we could get near them in the second-half – and getting the delivery from Macca [McNamee] then we’d got a chance. It was just about belief – and getting the first goal.”
It helped that come the second-half City also looked a tighter defensive unit.
“It’s good,” said Ward, quizzed as to his blossoming partnership with the on-loan Baggies centre-half Leon Barnett.
The pair were at the Ricoh Stadium, Coventry, last season before the footballing fates reunited them in Norfolk this time round.
“Obviously I know Barney from before; we didn’t have too many games, but we trained a lot together and he’s a great lad.
“He’s settled in well and he’s playing like he’s been here for a couple of years, not on loan – and we’ll see what happens with that,” added Ward, the implication being obvious enough. That Barnett’s loan spell needs to become permanent once the transfer window re-opens in the New Year.
The two clearly ‘fit’ even if Burnley’s second caught all concerned flat-footed. One, simple straight pass from Dean Marney shouldn’t have let Martin Paterson in so cleanly on goal.
“I think we bounce off each other well,” said Ward. “We normally know where we are and where we’re supposed to be. “He knows me and I know how he plays and we just cover each others’ a*ses, really.”
The only downside was Crofts’ late exit. He could yet face a two-match ban given he was already on four yellows – one away from a ban.
“He’s clearly got the ball for the first one, but the referee’s on the wrong side of the tackle so it was unfortunate,” said Ward.
“And he’s going to be a big miss – he has been the heart-beat of the team. He breaks it up; he passes the ball; he scores goals. And that’s what you want from a midfielder.
“And he probably doesn’t get enough credit from people outside the club, but since he’s come here [from Brighton] he’s stepped up and he’s been brilliant.”
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