Lambert could not hide his burning desire to upset City
© Copyright Stephen Waller
There was a steel in the eye and a determination in the words of Paul Lambert as he set his sights on upsetting Norwich City – but there was also a sense that the Ipswich boss was having to hold back his true feelings.
The Scot enthralled a packed media room at Town’s training ground with the intensity and simplicity which Canaries fans will remember well from his fantastic spell north of the border.
It was all about the players, not him. He’ll be trying to win the game, not park the bus. The Blues fans have been brilliant during his four months in Suffolk.
There was an obduracy and sternness to Lambert that not only made clear he is desperate to upset the applecart at Carrow Road on Sunday, but also left no room for any yellow and green nostalgia.
“I know derbies like the back of my hands, I’ve played in some ferocious ones,” began the former Celtic and Scotland midfielder, as he started his mission to try and paint the game as not being too much of a big deal for him.
For a man who played in many Old Firm derbies in Glasgow, as well as the pressure of games against Schalke during his successful Borussia Dortmund days, it’s a perspective that Lambert also offered when he was Norwich manager.
There can be around 60,000 packed in when Celtic face Rangers, up to an astonishing 80,000 at Dortmund, so perspective from outside the East Anglian bubble is needed at times, as the hype cranks up locally.
“It’s a game we have to go and try to win, it’s 10 years since this club beat them,” the Town boss concluded as he tried to alleviate some of that pressure.
The problem was, this was no ordinary press conference and the 90th league meeting of Norwich and Ipswich will be like few which have gone before it.
That’s due to City’s dominance of derby day being started by none other than Lambert himself during his success, crediting that kick-start in League One to the quality of players he inherited.
“When Norwich were in League One, they had Championship players,” he said in a rare reflection. “Holt, Hoolahan, Darel Russell, they were all top players in League One. All they had to do was gel together, get a wee bit of momentum and get out of the league.”
After stepping away in 2012 to join Aston Villa the 49-year-old has had average stints at Blackburn, Wolves and Stoke, which has seen him join Ipswich in the Last Chance Saloon.
That sets Lambert up for a return to Carrow Road – his fifth since leaving, it should be said – with the Tractor Boys bottom and eight points adrift having taken nine points from 15 league games under Lambert, the same amount managed under Paul Hurst.
While the former Canaries boss wasn’t hiding from the difficult situation Town find themselves in it also took Lambert back to his pomp. His approach to the game sounded so familiar to that which led Norwich straight through the Championship unexpectedly, defying the odds to gain automatic promotion in 2011.
“We’ll go there and have a game plan to try and win,” he continued. “It’ll be a different game but in any given game you can win. In a derby game it doesn’t matter who’s top and who’s bottom, anybody can win.”
Yet amid the attempts to play down the hype there were little nuggets of truth smattered in with the occasional mischievous smile, starting a new sentence: “It’s the outside that put the animosity on it, it doesn’t faze me.” But concluding: “I can’t wait to go.”
It sums up the approach well, trying to play down the importance of his return while simultaneously desperate to go back to his former home and derail the promotion train.
Impressed by Norwich? Not really followed them.
City’s transfer work? They’ve had Premier League money.
The Canaries’ style? We’ll focus on our performance.
Still got a soft spot for Norwich? Not that I’m going to tell you about today.
Carrow Road boos? Only care about the Ipswich fans.
Lambert made it clear he was in no mood to talk about the past, focusing only on trying to get a win which could have a huge effect on Town’s season.
There was no attempt to hide the truth when our man Paddy Davitt asked if being underdogs suited him for Sunday though.
“You know me (lengthy pause and stare) and I’m coming to win. Bottom line, I’m coming to win,” as an occasionally tense press conference drew to a close.
“Might not do it but we’ll have a right good go.”
Whether he said it directly or you were reading between the lines, it was clear, Lambert desperately wants this win.
• You can watch highlights of lambert’s press conference above, or click here to watch the full video