City boss Paul Lambert this evening revealed his impatience to crack on with the real thing after the Canaries concluded their summer preparations with a comfortable 3-0 home win over Italian Serie A side Parma.
This time next week and Lambert will have tasted life as a Premiership manager for real with that opening away-day trip to Wigan Athletic.
What was clear, however, as the Scot spoke to reporters afterwards was how much the next seven days will drag – and, likewise, just how much of a drag this summer’s ‘phoney war’ of pre-season friendlies have been for the manager.
Just as they were for Lambert the player.
“It’s nice to win these games, but it’s not the be all and end all – and you’ve probably heard me say that a million times now,” said the Canary chief, after a first-half strike from skipper Grant Holt and a brace from Andrew Surman after the break put the Italians in their place.
Bar for one second-half flair up involving Bradley Johnson, it was a fairly luke-warm affair with the Canaries offering both the greater appetite and, indeed, the greater moments of individual skill than their continental visitors.
A superb feint and turn from Wes Hoolahan on the half-hour mark that left two Parma defenders wholly wrong-footed and facing the wrong direction was just one example with the on-loan Spurs defender Kyle Naughton continuing to blossom as he picked up the sponsors’ Man of the Match award for another, strong and purposeful outing for his new employers.
The last-minute absence of Russell Martin with a calf knock allowed the 22-year-old to strut his stuff at right-back – and from there deliver the perfect, teasing far post cross for Holt to convert on 34 minutes.
Hence Lambert’s impatience to get on and get at ‘em!
“If truth be known, I never liked it [pre-season] as a player and I’ve never liked it as a manager,” admitted Lambert, handed two more bridges to cross ahead of that trip to Wigan – assessing the extent of Martin’s calf troubles and keeping his fingers crossed that his Welsh international contingent of Steve Morison and Andrew Crofts return unscathed from their trip to the Principality for their all-important home friendly against Australia. Not…
Another flight of Sepp Blatter and FIFA’s fancy to insist on a round of international friendlies 72 hours before the Premier League opens.
“He [Martin] got a bang on his calf the other night,” the manager reported, with his name actually being on the team-sheet as down to start.
“He’s tried it and then felt it a little bit, so we’ll see how he is for the rest of the week.”
Crofts, of course, is also struggling with an ankle knock; once again he failed to feature. Whether this is all part of the games managers invariably play in the run-up to such meaningless international matches might be for the team-sheet at Wigan to decide.
“Hopefully, he’s going to be OK,” said Lambert. “His ankle has still got a little bit of puffiness there so we’ll see how he does during the week.”
The manager’s thoughts on that Wales game were written rather larger across his face than they were ever spoken.
‘A lot of managers have complained about having an international game so close to the start of the season – it does seem strange?’ was the question.
“Yes – it does,” was the answer. His face offered a thousand headlines with regard to his true feelings on the matter.
Get that out of the way on Wednesday night and then it was ‘Game on!’
“I think everybody has waited long enough to go and play this first game and I’m just glad that pre-season is now out of the road and now the competitive stuff starts,” said the City chief, likely to be without both Elliott Ward and the luckless James Vaughan for several more weeks with their respective knee troubles.
“We’re up against a really good side in Wigan,” he added. “It’ll be tough, but we’ve earned the right to play them.”
As for the game itself, Surman rewarded the manager for his start with two goals after the break. If the first had a little bit of scuffiness to it as he made the most of good work from Holt through the inside left channel, the second four minutes from the end was an excellent, sweet finish after some decent approach play and awareness from second-half substitute Anthony Pilkington.
Canadian international Simeon Jackson was the one left to rue the chances that got away. Twice he was clean through, one-on-one, with Parma keeper Antonio Mirante only to be twice denied.
Parma, for their part, rarely threatened John Ruddy’s goal. Zak Whitbread opened with Ritchie de Laet; Leon Barnett finished the game alongside the on-loan Belgian. There lies another decision for Lambert to make this week.
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