Paul Lambert forgave his Norwich City players their missed chances at Old Trafford and said he was “as proud as anything” of their performance against the Premier League leaders.

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The Canaries could have taken at least a point from reigning champions Manchester United had they capitalised on a string of chances in the second half, with Anthony Pilkington and Steve Morison missing the best openings – and Pilkington twice unlucky not to find the net.

“There’s no blame attached to anybody,” said Lambert after the 2-0 defeat. “The lads gave me absolutely everything. They were running on empty in the heat but they were up against a team that are going to be there or thereabouts not just domestically but in European football.

“I’m gutted for them, I really am, for the way they played and their effort and the chances we created. But I’m not going to be too downhearted.

“They’re disappointed, they really are, because they knew they had great chances to score before Manchester United scored. But that’s football.”

Lambert added: “I thought we played ever so well and we had chances to score, but you can’t keep them out for 90 minutes the way they play the game, being at home. But I’m as proud as anything for what the lads did.

“Things go through your head and you know if you come to places like this and you get opportunities you have to try to take them.

“That’s the game. If you don’t take your chances when you’re up against teams like that then it can come back and haunt you.

“We had two or three great opportunities to score. With the one that hit the post and fell into the goalkeeper’s arms, you think maybe it’s not your day.” Lambert felt the whole occasion was a measure of how far City had progressed as a club in a short space of time.

He said: “United took eight goals off Arsenal. Two years ago we were in League One and to come here and play the way we did – I think you can always tell by the fans’ reaction. The Norwich crowd were different class today. I thought they were excellent. They saw the effort we put in. I can’t ask for any more.”

With seven Premier League games played and a fortnight’s break before the visit of Swansea City, Lambert is well satisfied with the campaign so far.

He said: “I think we’ve started the season really, really well for a team that’s just come up. The performances are there. That’s the great thing about it, we’re playing well enough to pick up points and with every game we play we seem to be getting better.”

Lambert knows City will not have to play Manchester United – a team he labelled “fabulous” – every week.

“As soon as you walk through this door that will lift you anyway, it would any footballer,” he said. “It’s what you do after that when you’re going to teams that are not as big as this football club.”

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