Baggies boss Roy Hodgson is hoping to finally let star striker Peter Odemwingie off the leash in front of the Sky TV cameras tomorrow as he sets aside a long-standing footballing friendship in a bid to throw an early spanner into Norwich’s works.
Hodgson – once, of course, the manager of Italian giants Inter Milan – has long been a sounding board for Norwich City’s principal shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones. In his opinions, they trust.
Indeed, had the timing been better, there might even been occasions where he would have fit the manager’s bill – where the Canaries not heading south into the third tier of English football and Hodgson was enhancing his reputation by guiding the unfancied Fulham to a Europa Cup final.
This weekend, however, and such valued friendships will play second fiddle to the need for both clubs to rack up their first Premier League win of the season.
Or, in the case of West Brom, look to try and pick up their first point of the season after drawing big, fat blanks against Chelsea, Manchester United and Stoke City.
Now the fixture computer has handed Hodgson a different challenge – back-to-back games against two of the new-boys: Norwich tomorrow lunch-time and Swansea City next weekend.
With both clubs still enjoying themselves after last season’s promotion triumph, the wily West Brom chief knows that both will present a tricky obstacle as he looks to fire the Baggies own season into life.
Particularly given the fact that West Brom are away on both occasions – to Carrow Road for the benefit of the Sky cameras tomorrow; to the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, a week later.
“One always prefers to get newcomers away later in the season,” Hodgson told the Birmingham Evening Mail in the run-up to this weekend’s latest Premier League adventure for the Norfolk side.
“But we have studied Norwich City and we’ve done our homework on their strengths. Now it’s up to us.”
Lambert, likewise, will have done his research – he travelled in person to see the 1-0 home defeat by Stoke at The Hawthorns that left the Baggies in 18th spot alongside both Blackburn Rovers and Spurs – both of whom, likewise, have yet to register a point.
He will also have clocked Odemwingie’s efforts last season in which the 30-year-old Nigerian bagged 15 goals from his 33 Premiership appearances – a nigh-on one-in-two return which will demand respect tomorrow should he finally shrug off a niggling ankle knock and start his first game of the campaign alongside summer signing Shane Long.
“Peter is a talent and a special type of player, the kind you might pay more attention to,” Hodgson told the paper. “I see no reason why he shouldn’t play if I decide to play him, as I probably will.
“And I see no reason why he shouldn’t be looking forward to it to kick on from where he left last season. Goals lift teams so if he can get them like he did then it will lift us.”
Long – signed for £6.5 million from Reading at the start of last month – already has two goals from three Premier League appearances for his new employers. He won’t be short of confidence – even if a calf injury ruled him out of the Republic Of Ireland’s recent Euro2012 double-header.
He, too, is likely to be fit again for tomorrow’s live match.
“Shane was due to play for Ireland but sadly the calf injury prevented him from doing so,” Hodgson reported.
“He’s in a good place, he’s back in the Premier League and is number one choice for Ireland alongside Robbie Keane. It’s up to him to keep scoring the goals and keep at it.”
As ever, City boss Lambert has a wealth of options in the front two-thirds of his team – precious few in the back third.
With Elliott Ward now making slower progress than hoped and Zak Whitbread victim of a hamstring injury at Chelsea, Ritchie de Laet and Leon Barnett all-but pick themselves at centre-half; ditto Declan Rudd as the 20-year-old keeper comes in for the suspended John Ruddy.
The biggest question lies in midfield where Lambert can hope a diamond sparkles with the likes of Wes Hoolahan and David Fox on centre-stage or he can go for a more combative – and wider – flat flour of Wales hero Andrew Crofts partnering up with Bradley Johnson in the middle; Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington adding the width to the left and the right.
Whether Chrissy Martin will get the nod ahead of Steve Morison is probably the final question – the players will discover the manager’s decision today as they run through their final preparations for tomorrow’s showdown.
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