City boss Paul Lambert this morning refused to rule out the prospect of a swift return to front-line duty for centre-half Zak Whitbread at The Liberty Stadium, Swansea, tomorrow.
Alongside his Spanish side-kick Daniel Ayala, Whitbread was the big injury fear to come out of last weekend’s 2-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers.
Both centre-halves would be off the field and in the treatment room before half-time and it required a huge effort of will from stand-in central defenders Kyle Naughton and Russell Martin to deliver a big, big result in the quest for Premiership survival.
Both Whitbread and Ayala picked up hamstring injuries. Lambert confirmed again this morning that Ayala would be out for ‘a few weeks’.
Whether or not Whitbread makes a swift return away at the Swans will depend on how the 28-year-old Texan feels this morning. Of late, he has looked the proper Premiership part. And whilst the Canary chief can re-unite Russell with Leon Barnett tomorrow, having Whitbread back at his disposal would come as a big boost.
“Daniel’s out for a few weeks; Zak’s doing OK,” was Lambert’s up-to-date medical bulletin at Colney.
“We’ll just have to see how he [Whitbread] is today – how he’s feeling. But Daniel is going to be the one that’s going to be missing for a few weeks.”
Given the resources – and the history of performances – at his disposal, the Scot wasn’t unduly worried if neither of his recent starting centre-halves headed west overnight.
It will only be another couple of weeks before he has a further string to his defensive bow in the shape of £3 million Posh centre-half Ryan Bennett.
“It’s not a concern – whoever comes in, I expect them to perform and the lads will. They’ve never let me down.”
It was the performance of Martin and Naughton at centre-half – coupled to Elliott Bennett’s emergency stint at right-back – that prompted Lambert to view last weekend’s 2-0 win over the struggling Trotters as one, if not the best result of his Canary reign as the Norfolk side continued to keep the relegation dogs at bay.
They remain three wins away from survival – a feat, said Lambert, that would surpass anything else in his still-short managerial career.
The other option up Lambert’s sleeve was a first start for long-term injury victim Elliott Ward. He has one reserve team outing up his sleeve and appears ahead of James Vaughan in terms of possible first team run-outs. Marc Tierney’s troubled groin continues to sideline him, however.
“He’s doing fine, Wardy,” said the manager. “He’s trained away with us for the last couple of weeks and had 60 to 70 minutes in a reserve game, so I wouldn’t have any fear in throwing him in.”
Ditto Barnett, who has found himself out of the running of late as the Whitbread-Ayala show took centre stage.
“Leon is ready,” said Lambert. “And I know it’s been tough for him not playing as many games as he would have liked, but he’s still been a major part of what has happened to this football club.”
Tomorrow’s trip to The Liberty promises to be as tough as any – only Manchester United have managed to come out of South Wales with three points to show for their efforts. Seeing the ball at all is City’s first task as the Swans under Brendan Rogers pass, pass and pass their opponents to death.
Lambert, clearly, has every respect for both his managerial counterpart and the Swans’ achievements thus far this season.
“The last few times we’ve played them, they’ve been really tough games,” said Lambert, with the Canaries falling to a 3-0 defeat at the Liberty on their last, Championship visit.
“But we will be going there with a lot of confidence – and we will be going there trying to win.”
The Swans are – like Norwich – sat in the relative comfort of mid-table. The two clubs locked horns when it came to the signature of Ryan Bennett, otherwise the respect is mutual.
“Brendan has done terrifically well – and so has the team,” said Lambert. “And I’m under no illusions as to how hard it is going to be, but we’re certainly playing well enough to go and win.”