City boss Paul Lambert this morning moved to quash reports of a summer clear-out at Colney as the Canaries prepared for tomorrow’s home clash with bottom of the table Wolves.
The Scot has long made it clear that nothing will be decided player and contract-wise until after the season – once Norwich’s fate is known league-wise.
As much as the Canary boss refuses to take anything for granted safety-wise, the strong likelihood remains that the Norfolk side are but one, final win away from securing another term of office in the Premier League.
All of which adds to the air of expectation ahead of this weekend’s Wolves clash; three points against Terry Connor’s strugglers and the Canaries are all-but home and hosed. At which point, the manager can give serious thought to his plans for a second year in the top flight of English football – the club’s famed ‘seven-year plan’ running four years ahead of schedule under the canny Scot.
Hence his evident anger at today’s national newspaper story that suggested the centre-half pairing of Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward would both be leaving – likewise Aaron Wilbraham and the on-loan Chris Martin.
“That’s what I annoyed me,” said Lambert. “I haven’t spoken to any of the players. Nothing has been said.”
That Lambert is already building the Class of 2012-13 is, however, readily apparent.
He clearly believes that ex-Leeds skipper Jonny Howson will blossom into a “right top player” for the club – a belief that began to be borne out by his display in last weekend’s 1-0 away defeat at Newcastle.
Likewise, he is still bedding England Under-21 prospect Ryan Bennett into life at Colney; unlike Howson who was skipper at Elland Road from the age of 19, Bennett has yet to enjoy such a run of games at Championship level.
“I’ve spoken to him this week and he’s still young,” said Lambert, speaking to the Press at Colney this morning.
But his very arrival suggests he will be one fighting for a starting berth this summer; the Spaniard Daniel Ayala is also back in training and back in the reckoning for an outing this weekend. Once again, his pedigree and his Liverpool upbringing will suggest that Lambert sees a bright future for the ball-playing centre-half.
Throw in Leon Barnett and the possibility of a further recruitment drive in the summer and something – or rather someone – will have to give if Norwich are going to go into battle with just four centre-halves to their name.
Tomorrow’s game is, however, likely to come just too soon for Ayala to feature again. Likewise for Marc Tierney and the ever-luckless James Vaughan, whose hamstring injury continues to bedevil his hopes of stringing a decent run of games together for his new employers.
The only other slight injury doubt concerns Anthony Pilkington who exited early at St James’ Park. He has trained this week, but is clearly one that the manager will monitor carefully over the final 24 hours.
This weekend’s game – Lambert admitted – comes with all the warning signs that attached to both Blackburn (h) and Wigan (h). Both were bottom of the table when they arrived in Norfolk; both dug deep to deny their hosts the expected comfortable success. Lambert is expecting no different tomorrow – however much disarray Wolves currently look in.
Their cause wasn’t helped overnight by news that influential skipper Karl Henry will be missing as the 29-year-old fails to shrug off the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the last fortnight.
Nenad Milijas might, however, return having missed the 5-0 home humbling by Manchester United with a slight calf strain.
“Karl [Henry] is out – he will not be fit for Saturday,” said Connor, handed the unenviable task of keeping Wolves in the Premier League following the dismissal of Mick McCarthy. “Nenad trained today so, hopefully, he will suffer no ill-effects and be another body for us.”