City boss Paul Lambert was this morning at pains to damp down expectations ahead of this weekend’s ‘winnable’ double-header of Fulham (h) and QPR (a).
‘Winnable – in whose eyes?’ would be the gist of the manager’s argument as the Canaries look to dust themselves down and go again following Tuesday night’s 2-0 home defeat by an all-too impressive Spurs.
The hope – nay, expectation in some quarters – will be that City will swiftly follow up that reverse with another commanding home performance against Fulham, to be swiftly followed by adding to QPR’s recent woes at Loftus Road on Monday.
If only Premiership life were that simple, suggested Lambert, as the Canaries prepared to hit the half-way mark of the campaign with their sights still firmly set on survival.
“I think what people have to get into their head is the fact that we are playing catch-up with nearly every team in the league because we’re that new to it,” said Lambert, with City currently sat in 11th spot after an impressive opening half of the season.
The trick, clearly, is to keep that wind in the sails through both the transfer window and the spring – all the while reminding the punters of (a) the financial realities under which the club continues to operate and (b) how no game will ever be easy as the business end of the season looms.
The £70 million business end – or whatever the latest figure is used to measure the worth of a place in the top flight of English football. Fulham being a case in point.
“I think they are a terrific side and have got some really top players,” said Lambert, albeit not quite of the Gareth Bale ilk.
“And they have been an established Premiership side now for a number of years and when you look at their squad it’s really, really strong.
“They got a great result against Chelsea and going there and getting the result that they did [1-1] shows you how good a side they are.”
The fact that Norwich currently sit above Fulham in the table was, said Lambert, an irrelevance.
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” he insisted. “The evidence is there on your face – they’re an established side and while we’ve done really fine to be where we are, the expectancy level is something that we’ve got to curtail a little bit. It’s severe here.
“But Fulham are a top, top side with really good players in their team. This is a tough, tough game for us.”
They had, in a sense, created a rod for their own back in having such a decent start to their first season back in the top flight.
“What the lads have achieved is incredible – most people predicted us to be down in the bottom three,” said the City chief. “But when you do that and you surpass people’s expectancy levels then people think you’re just going to turn up and win – and it never, ever works that way.
“And we can’t spend what other teams spend – and people have to realise that. But we’re making a fist of it and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Injury-wise and Lambert rated both Marc Tierney (groin) and Ritchie de Laet (back) “50-50” for the two games.
The return of Kyle Naughton after being ineligible for the Spurs game and the manner in which Adam Drury returned to frontline duty as if he had never been away eases the manager’s decisions at full-back.
“Marc [Tierney] is feeling a bit better today, but we’ll just have to wait and see how he’s really feeling and I’ll decide from there,” said Lambert.
The same will apply to Drury after his first return to Premiership duty. ‘If only I’d have had him at 25, 26…’ was Lambert’s wistful remark. For one-on-one defending, he hadn’t seen many better.
Certainly the lightning-quick Kyle Walker didn’t have too much joy against the veteran City defender – now in his Testimonial Year at Carrow Road.
“I thought Adam did absolutely terrific,” said Lambert. “And I’ve got nothing but admiration for Adam Drury as both a lad and as a professional.
“I probably just came to the club at the wrong time to try and get everything out of him – I’d have liked to see when he was in his prime round about 25 or 26. He’s one of the best one-on-one defenders I’ve seen in a long while.”