Paul Lambert’s worst fears were duly realised this morning when he officially all-but confirmed that Leon Barnett’s season was over.
The Canary centre-half pulled up sharply in the midst of last weekend’s 2-1 win over Reading with a serious hamstring injury.
Further observation this week has now necessitated a date with a surgeon – confirming that this was no ordinary tweak of a hamstring.
This one meant business and – fresh from signing that new, three-and-a-half year deal with the Canaries just last month – so Barnett’s season is set to come to a painfully premature end.
“It’s not looking good,” Lambert admitted to the club’s official website this morning, as City prepared for tomorrow’s big Championship clash against promotion rivals Leeds United. All now without one of this season’s star turns.
“He will see a surgeon on Monday with the possibility of doing something on Tuesday,” added Lambert.
“It’s a huge blow for him because of the way he’s been playing for us and for myself and the club. But that’s football.”
It’s also the Law Of Sod that having reluctantly parted company with big-hearted centre-half Michael Nelson in the transfer window, Lambert would have to find himself back on the trail of an experienced central defender just three weeks later.
The footballing gods don’t always smile on the former Champions League winner after all.
“We’re trying [to bring someone in] at the minute and hopefully something will transpire over the next few days, and hopefully we’ll get somebody in,” he said.
“At this stage of the season we’ll look to bring somebody in with experience.”
All of which cast something of a shadow over City’s preparations for tomorrow’s re-match with the Whites.
Lambert, of course, has two fit centre-halves still at his disposal in the shape of Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread though both have been hit by injury niggles of their own this winter.
Hence his desire to bring in experience in that position for the final run-in to the line.
Back in Yorkshire and Whites boss Simon Grayson was looking to take a little heat out of the equation as a bumper, 30,000-plus crowd headed for Elland Road tomorrow.
Leeds have a Yorkshire derby clash with near-neighbours Barnsley in mid-week; the big games are coming thick and fast for all concerned, but Grayson is clearly intent on planting everyone’s feet firmly on the ground.
Win, lose or draw tomorrow and there’s still everything to play for, he told the Yorkshire Evening Post as the mind games commenced.
To lose wouldn’t rock their world; to win would just be another three points on the road to who-knows-where…
Grayson and Lambert both read from the same manual of management.
“It would be a great boost to win the game because we are playing one of our rivals and they’ll be thinking the same,” Grayson told his local paper, on the eve of another big weekend of Championship football.
“But if we don’t win, it’s not a problem – we just start preparing for the Barnsley game.”
The fact that both Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest failed to take full advantage of their extra games in hand this week has merely strengthened the feeling that the rivalry between Leeds and Norwich – established in last season’s League One title race – will continue again this season.
The two will be locked in battle right to the finishing line.
“I’m not bothered about headlines,” said the Whites boss, quizzed about the attention the two clubs title spat attracted this time last year.
“I’m only bothered about where you finish at the end of each season and what you achieve as a manager and a team. Norwich were champions of League One last season and rightly so.”
Lambert’s biggest decision team-wise will be whether or not Andrew Surman has enough match-fitness in the tank to now warrant a seventh start in Canary colours.
The one-time Saints starlet demonstrated again in the Reading game that he has the ability to turn games in Norwich’s favour, but it is quite a juggle to fit the playing talents of a Surman, a Henri Lansbury and a Wes Hoolahan into the same midfield – whilst equally retaining the kind of strength and stability that Andrew Crofts and David Fox bring to the party.
That’s one for the manager…