City boss Paul Lambert will lock horns with one of his bigger friends in football tomorrow – fellow Scot and Bhoys fan, Owen Coyle.
The two sparred regularly as players for Celtic and Motherwell; both are now fast making their mark on the English management scene after cutting their teeth north of the border – Lambert with Livingston and Coyle with St Johnstone.
Tomorrow and they face each other again at the Reebok. Canary chief Lambert will continue his quest to deliver Norwich’s first Premiership victory since their return to the top flight this summer, while Coyle will be desperately hoping that this weekend’s fixture allows the Whites the chance to make amends for the 5-0 demolition inflicted upon them by a rampant Manchester United last weekend.
Having already faced both Liverpool and Manchester City this season, Coyle knows that the Canaries will present a different set of challenges – and that Kevin Davies and Co will go into tomorrow’s encounter with the weight of expectation bearing down on their shoulders.
Against any of the top four or five teams, the pressure is off the Boltons and the Norwichs. Any result is a bonus.
This weekend, however, and the Reebok faithful will expect a result; Norwich will be the ones with nothing to lose – and everything to gain from racking up their first Premier League away win in 17 years.
The last came away at Crystal Palace on Saturday, December 17, 1994. Fatefully, Norwich didn’t win an away game all season in their last trip to the top flight in 2004-2005.
“Norwich will present a difficult challenge,” Coyle told the Bolton Evening News in the run-up to this weekend’s long away trip for the Yellow and Green Army. “Their goal is to make sure they stay in the league and that creates dangerous opponents because they will be scrapping for every ball.”
The respect between the two men is clearly mutual; Coyle knows what awaits and the way in which Lambert looks to approach each and every game – gunning for a win.
“They are a very good passing team,” said the Bolton chief. “They have a goal threat from players who like to get shots away from outside the box.
“They present a whole range of threats but, equally, so do we. We created an abundance of chances against United but never took them. You live and die in both boxes.”
That clearly is the killer line – that in this division you do, indeed, ‘live and die in both boxes’. Or just outside it in the case of the Stoke penalty that should never have been.
The Canaries now have the unenviable record of conceding four penalties in each of their four Premier League outings – albeit two have been saved by first John Ruddy and then Declan Rudd.
Equally, the cast-iron penalty that never was came in the 1-0 defeat by West Bromwich Albion; James Vaughan’s repaired upper lip will attest to what damage a well-aimed elbow can do.
“He’s fine,” was Lambert’s swift verdict this morning, quizzed as to whether Vaughan’s trip to the plastic surgeon would limit his involvement this weekend.
Anthony Pilkington will also travel north with the City party after shrugging off the back injury that cost him a place in the squad for the Baggies game.
Lambert will, however, still be without his three, injured centre-halves – Daniel Ayala, Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread are all unavailable. Ritchie de Laet and Leon Barnett continue to pick themselves.
Given Bradley Johnson’s command performance at the heart of that Canary midfield and the likely physical nature of tomorrow’s clash, the one-time Arsenal youngster looks certain to start. Whether Wes Hoolahan did enough in his second-half appearance last Sunday to change Lambert’s thinking is one question for the manager and his No2, Ian Culverhouse, to ponder.
Likewise, his forward options. Against West Brom, the City chief started the game with skipper Grant Holt and Chrissy Martin leading the line, finished it with Steve Morison and the luckless Vaughan up top.
With latter patched up and ready to go again after his summer knee trouble, Lambert could yet go for a combination of big man, smaller man – one that could then offer genuine pace in behind the last defender.
Local lad Pilkington may also be expected to return – at the expense, potentially, of Andrew Surman.
The only thing bruised about Bolton is their pride. With just the one win to their name – the 4-0 away success at QPR on the opening day of the season – Coyle is not expected to make any wholesale changes after the United debacle.
He will simply send them back out to battle with a point to prove to the home supporters.