City boss Paul Lambert is under few illusions as to the task that awaits the Canaries this weekend as Norwich head north for Sunday’s Sky clash with Newcastle United.
Alongside the Norfolk club, the Magpies have been one of the revelations of this season as they sit sixth in the table and continue to gun for a ticket to Europe.
Two points from their last four, Premiership outings have, however, left Alan Pardew’s side somewhat becalmed of late – an accusation that could, likewise, be levelled at Paul Lambert’s men following last weekend’s rather lame 1-1 home draw with struggling Wigan Athletic.
Come Sunday and most would expect Newcastle to revive their stuttering campaign with victory over the visitors, but seasoned City watchers know that everyone would be well-advised to expect the unexpected with the Canaries – and that the big stadiums and the big crowds have tended, till now, to bring out the very best in the Premier League new-boys.
“I don’t think anybody expects us to go up there and get anything,” said Lambert, as he played host to the Press at Colney this morning.
“They’re doing fantastically well – Alan [Pardew] has got them going really well – but the lads are really looking forward to it. And there’ll be a massive crowd – which tends to bring out the best in people. And we’ll do everything we can to win.”
Be it Anfield, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge this season, Norwich have stood tall and not wilted in front of the big crowds. Lambert insists that Sunday will be the same again as the Toon Army head to St James with the same level of expectancy that the Canary faithful took to Carrow Road last weekend.
“We’ll not go there and be frightened by it,” vowed the Canary chief, as the final ten games of the season hove into view.
“It’s a really passionate, football place Newcastle and the crowd will come right behind their team, but we will do everything we can to try and turn that around,” said Lambert, who witnessed such passion first-hand when he played in Peter Beardsley’s Testimonial Game for that night’s opposition, Celtic.
Among those due to feature in the Beardsley XI that night was one D Huckerby.
The two teams have already clashed once this season when a centre-half lite United crashed to a 4-2 defeat at Carrow Road. Not that Lambert was taking any store from that.
“I don’t think it’ll matter,” he said. “This is just another really hard game. They have some terrific players up there, but we’re doing all right ourselves.”
The suggestion that Norwich were on something of a sticky run themselves with just one point from their last three outings – all kicked off by the disappointing FA Cup exit to Leicester City – was met with a typically robust response.
“It’s an absolute crisis, isn’t it?” he joked. “As I said after the game last week, the lads have been absolutely brilliant. They give you everything they have got and they have given ourselves a foothold in it [the league] and we’re sitting not too bad.
“There’s ten games to go now and there’ll be points won and dropped all over the place.”
Injury-wise and Daniel Ayala, Marc Tierney and James Vaughan will again all be missing from the Canary party heading north.
New-boy Jonny Howson will, however, be back at Lambert’s disposal after missing the Wigan clash through illness.
As to who starts – which horse the canny Scot opts to run for this particular course – that is for both Pardew and the Press to guess.
Steve Morison might reclaim his place ahead of Grant Holt – or the pair could be paired together again in a bid to repeat their success in the 4-2 win.
At the back, Ryan Bennett may still have to wait his moment as Elliott Ward and Zak Whitbread continue to hold fort; in the middle, it remains anyone’s guess as to which way the manager will go given the abundance of both playing riches and tactical systems that now lie at his disposal.