City boss Paul Lambert this morning gave his squad a clean bill of health ahead of tomorrow’s home clash against bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers.
Defeat for Arsenal away at Chelsea and a home win for the Norfolk side could see the Canaries lift themselves into seventh spot – if the form book rings true.
No surprise, therefore, to find Lambert trying to nail everyone’s feet firmly to the floor at Colney today; trying to avoid too many big expectations resting on his players’ shoulders following last weekend’s 1-1 draw away at Anfield.
Do not expect us to just turn up and pick up three, easy points was the manager’s stark warning this morning; beware the wounded animal as Rovers and their under-fire boss Steve Kean fight for their Premiership lives.
“If they think we’re just going to turn up and roll them over, they’re wrong,” said Lambert, with Blackburn laying down one marker with the spirited mid-week Carling Cup win over an in-form Newcastle United side.
Take note, was the manager’s message.
“It’s a hard game – arguably the hardest one we’ve faced because of their situation. It’s a totally different game from last week and Blackburn are an established, Premiership side. And we’re not.”
City, he stressed, could not afford to let their guard drop; the pedal has to be on the metal from August to May if the Canaries are to retain their prized, top flight status for another year.
“The players know that they have to be bang at it every single game – or else we will get turned over,” said Lambert.
“But they know that and, hopefully, they will keep the performance level up. And if we do that then maybe we’ve got a chance.”
With no fresh injuries to report, the manager’s one big decision probably lies right up top – to keep faith with Steve Morison or to reward club skipper Grant Holt for his electrifying finish at Liverpool with a return to the starting XI.
It is a hard choice; both men bring so much to the party; both are on form. Holt, however, now has the two goals to his name and might be classed as the more instinctive finisher of the two. Morison, for his part, can probably shade it on the athleticism front. When it comes to hunger, however, there is nothing between them.
“It’s not Morison versus Holt,” said the City chief, as the club skipper continues to push for a start.
“It’s what is beneficial for this football club. And it’s like what I see to everybody – sometimes you will find yourself in the side and sometimes you won’t. And that’s what happened.”
Holt’s thumping header at Anfield – and all on the back of his assured finish at Stamford Bridge – keeps the legend ticking over and, clearly, keeps Lambert thinking. It also keeps Morison bang on his toes.
“The goal on Saturday was fantastic – it was a terrific cross and the header was brilliant. And Grant’s been brilliant around the place as he has been for the last two years,” said Lambert, suggesting that Holt had been around the block long enough to know that competition for places can keep you on the sidelines – and that Lambert himself doesn’t pick a side on sentiment.
“Grant’s 30-years-old; he understands the game; he’s not a young kid that you’re having to explain a lot of things to and he’s been good about it.”
The fact that Kean has been the subject to abuse from sections of the Rovers support had not gone unnoticed; he is, of course, another one of Glasgow’s finest.
But it is more the wholly impatient nature of the footballing beast that Lambert railed against as opposed to rallying to one of his home city’s own.
“I just think it’s wrong what he’s going through,” said Lambert, all-too aware of how swiftly a manager’s fortunes can turn.
“I think he’s doing everything he can to try and get them up the table, but that’s the way fans seem to be going at the minute.
“If one or two results go against you, they’re hounding managers out and giving them criticism which is unfair.”
There but for the grace of God go I, was the under-current.
“Listen, it can be a lonely place when you’re standing out there,” said Lambert, as the likes of a Nigel Worthington, a Peter Grant and a Glenn Roeder would all attest.
“I haven’t had the fans protesting with the banners and that, but it’ll come,” he said. “And I’ve seen what’s happening with Mick McCarthy and all he’s done for them at Wolves. It’s not nice. No-one likes to be criticised whoever you are.
“But when you see the banners and see people turning up just for the sake of giving a guy abuse – and go back to their wives and be themselves; be a mouse – it’s not nice.”
Nor, he said, would he be immune. Fortune only favours those in football management for so long.
“It’s around the corner – I know that. It’s around the corner somewhere and it’ll come. It’s then a case of how you deal with it when it does.”