City boss Paul Lambert might be making his derby debut from the relative safety of the directors box this weekend, but he is all-too well aware that when it comes to clashes of this fearsome ilk you can take absolutely nothing for granted.
So as the Match of the Day cameras prepare to roll for this Sunday’s lunchtime clash, the fact that the Canaries go into the game as hot favourites to compound Roy Keane’s woes cuts no ice with the Scotsman.
In the fevered atmosphere that will be Carrow Road come 1.15pm Sunday, who knows which players will shrink and hide; which players will grow and blossom.
Hence, Lambert could be found sitting firmly on the fence in the run-up to this weekend’s grand reunion – the first derby clash for some 18 months after Norwich’s brief fall from Championship grace last season.
“With a derby game you can never tell which way it is going to swing – no matter who is doing well and who is not,” said Lambert, speaking at this morning’s pre-match Press conference.
“It doesn’t concern me if Ipswich aren’t playing as well as Roy would like them to do – they are still a very, very good side. But we’re certainly playing well enough to go out to try and win the game.”
Keane arrives north of the border with his own managerial reputation at arguably its lowest ebb since taking over the realms of the Suffolk club.
Lambert’s star, by contrast, continues to rise in the East after this week plucking Gunners starlet Henri Lansbury out of The Emirates on an emergency loan deal.
Come Sunday lunchtime, however, and events will be out of the hands of both managers; it will be down to the players as individuals to rise to the huge mental challenge that derby day brings. Everyone might claim that they are ‘just another game…’ but the reality is quite different.
“Certain players will raise their game and do things that they don’t normally do on a football pitch,” said the City chief, speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk.
“Derby games are special – there’s no doubt about that and this is every bit as important as the ones that I’ve been involved in,” said Lambert, citing the Celtic-Rangers games in that regard.
“And it’s important for the Norwich fans that we try and win the game. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist [as a player] to be aware that derby games are huge for you as an individual and huge for you as part of a club.”
Lambert has yet to manage a derby encounter of this ilk; thus far he has experienced the passions and the emotions of the day as a player only.
And, of course, courtesy of events at Reading the other week – and the subsequent two-match touchline ban that followed this week, Lambert’s first-ever derby game as a manager will find him kicking his heels – and more besides – in the directors’ box.
It will, you strongly suspect, be a thoroughly frustrating experience as his No2, Ian Culverhouse, conducts affairs from pitch-side.
It will, at least, mean that the Champions League winner will not be swapping icy stares with his opposite number as the Manchester United legend struggles to keep his Town career afloat on the back of a string of poor results and generally disjointed performances.
“The only frustrating thing is I let myself down for doing what I did, it was an accumulation of a lot of things that night,” said Lambert, as he looked back on his row with the fourth official that led to referee Michael Oliver brandishing his second red card of the night.
Grant Holt’s was subsequently rescinded; Lambert’s stood – and came with a £2,500 fine to boot.
“It’s just something I have to take on the chin really, it’s frustrating I can’t be in the technical area.
“Ian will know exactly what to do, we’ve been with each other for a few years now. But then it won’t matter what Ian or I say to them – once they go out and cross that white line, then they will be on their own to try and win that game.
“But they’ll know what we think – and they’ll give me everything they’ve got. As they always do.”
Team-wise and Lambert’s biggest selection poser will be what to do with new-boy Lansbury; play the 20-year-old from the start – or keep him up the sleeve for a dramatic, 60th minute appearance?
If only to keep things solid from the off, the City chief could well pair David Fox and the excellent Andrew Crofts together; a fit-again Andrew Surman deserves another start on the left leaving just that wide right-slot up for grabs.
Which way he decides to go is for Lambert to know and everyone else to guess – Keane and Co very much included.
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