City boss Paul Lambert all-but confirmed that Russell Martin will continue to ‘stand in’ at centre-half on Monday night as the Canaries prepare to build on that 2-1 away win at Bolton last weekend with a live Sky clash against Sunderland.
Martin, 25, found himself handed the task of keeping Kevin Davies under wraps as he answered the manager’s call – enabling Lambert to rest Ritchie de Laet as Zak Whitbread, Elliott Ward and Daniel Ayala continued to struggle with injury.
Whitbread – Lambert revealed at Colney this morning – is due to resume training ‘next week’ which looks set to ensure that the Martin-Barnett combo will continue for another game. If it ain’t bust, why try to fix it?
“Russell [Martin] is a lad that has never let me down,” said Lambert, having had the player under his charge first at Wycombe and now again at Norwich.
“Even when I had him at Wycombe – he’s somebody that I trust,” added the Canary chief. “And, for me, that’s really, really important. And I thought against Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic I thought him and Leon [Barnett] were exceptional.”
Lambert revealed that “in a quiet way”, Martin did help organise those players around him; that maybe he was one of those that had a voice to his game. He also has a smart, football brain.
“The players all respect him in the dressing room which is always a good thing to have,” said Lambert. “But, as I said, the one thing with Russell is that he has never let me down.”
The other player mentioned heavily in despatches was David Fox who returned to the heart of that City midfield at the Reebok and delivered two big assists en route to that famous City victory.
Like Martin (Russell), Fox is a player that Lambert knows inside out; he recognises just what Premier League qualities he brings to the table.
“I’ve know Foxy for a right few years now and I expect him to play the way that he did – because of the way that he can play the game,” said Lambert, with the one-time Old Trafford youth team prospect about to make a return trip to Manchester in eight days time.
“He’s got that great habit of giving the ball to his team-mate. And being at Manchester United when he was younger has obviously given him a great grounding.
“He’s just a marvellous footballer. He can see things with one touch which it takes other footballers to do in two or three. And he can do it in one.”
Had anything changed around the place now that Norwich had that first win on the board was one, obvious question to be asked this morning.
“No,” said Lambert simply. “It’s just the same as it was before. I’ve said before, I very rarely get carried away whether we’re winning, losing or drawing.
“We’ve just got to try and keep the same level of performance that we’ve been showing of late and if we do that, hopefully, we’ll win the game.”
City’s prospects probably weren’t helped by Sunderland’s eye-catching 4-0 win against Stoke last weekend. A home defeat to their nearest and dearest neighbours Newcastle had previously suggested that they might be on the wobble. Normal order might have been restored.
Norwich, said Lambert, have to make home advantage count – particularly what lies in wait just around the corner.
“We’re at home; the onus is on us. But Sunderland got a terrific win last week and it’s going to be really, really tough. But we’re certainly playing well enough.”
Injury-wise and Lambert had nothing new to report. His three centre-halves continue their return from longer-term injuries; it would be a brave manager to throw either a Ward or a Whitbread straight back into the fray at Manchester United (a).
The big question will be whether he sticks with the nominal, one-man strike force of Steve Morison up front or reverts to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with the likes of a Grant Holt or a James Vaughan re-installed in the side.
Given that, however, might have to come at the expense of a Wes Hoolahan or a Fox, there may yet be every chance that Lambert rewards a winning team with a second, straight start.