David Cuffley Norwich City's punishing schedule of matches continues with a stint of FA Cup duty at Carlisle tonight - but the man putting the players through the mill at Colney insists they can take it.

David Cuffley

Norwich City's punishing schedule of matches continues with a stint of FA Cup duty at Carlisle tonight - but the man putting the players through the mill at Colney insists they can take it.

The Canaries' second round trip to Brunton Park this evening (5.15pm) is their 25th fixture of the season, their 14th away from home and their seventh cup-tie. They will have clocked up a minimum of 30 games before Christmas, five more than at the same stage last year.

But assistant manager Ian Culverhouse believes the squad is well prepared to cope with the workload thanks largely to a more testing regime on the training ground.

City have lost just three out of 20 matches in all competitions since Culverhouse arrived as Paul Lambert's number two in August.

He said: “The players have really taken on board the work ethic we have tried to instil and it's all credit to them. They have responded very well.

“It was always a good group of players. But what we have done is given them a bit of team structure and shape and stepped up the intensity of how we train. The levels of intensity are very high.

“We are trying to get the players to train as they play, and certainly in the early part of the week, there are some very high intensity sessions.

“We have introduced a more competitive edge to training with a lot of short, sharp sessions. They have really taken it on board and they seem to enjoy it.”

While promotion from League One remains the club's priority, Culverhouse, who played in two FA Cup semi-finals for the Canaries, does not under-estimate the value of the competition.

He said: “I think it's important the club gets to the third round. We have to go to Carlisle and get a good result.

“Carlisle have picked up very well, they had a great win at MK Dons and we know we have to be on our mettle. It is important the club has a run in the FA Cup.”

Fourth-placed City return to League One business at Southend on Tuesday night and Culverhouse, who featured in one promotion campaign as part of the Division Two title-winning team of 1985-86, begins to sense a similar momentum and confidence at the club.

He said: “It's exactly the same. We roll from one game to another, there is great character in the side. There is nothing better than winning games. There's a vibrant atmosphere, you only have to see the way the fans turn up.

“They demand a certain type of football and as long as they can see 11 bodies giving everything they've got, they are right behind us. The expectation levels are still as high.

“The teams near the top are all finding their feet. Leeds are a force, Charlton are strong, Huddersfield are a very free-scoring team at home. It's going to be tight but if we perform as we know we can and concentrate on our own job, we know the other teams are going to be taking points from each other.”

City's run of success has been based on a diamond midfield formation without traditional wingers, although the capture of Swindon's Anthony McNamee on loan presents another option.

Said Culverhouse: “We started off with 4-4-2, but we've tried to get the best out of the players we've got here. The formation suits the type of player we have.

“This system puts a big workload on the full-backs because we don't have a lot of natural width in the side, but we have very athletic full-backs.

“We need width because a lot of teams come to Carrow Road to get players behind the ball.”

Help has arrived in Culverhouse's old position at right-back with the signing of Peterborough's Russell Martin on loan.

“Semmy (Jon Otsemobor) is the only right-back we've got because Michael Spillane won't be back until the New Year and George Francomb is working his way back slowly but we don't want to rush him,” said Culverhouse.

“Once we heard Russell might be available we made it a priority to get him in. We know what we're getting. Russell's a quality player. He will revel in the size of the club, the crowd and the expectation levels.”