City boss Lambert laments 'shocking' ref

David Cuffley Manager Paul Lambert condemned referee Eddie Ilderton's “shocking” performance as Norwich City missed out on the chance to extend their lead at the top of League One.

David Cuffley

Manager Paul Lambert condemned referee Eddie Ilderton's “shocking” performance as Norwich City missed out on the chance to extend their lead at the top of League One.

The Canaries crashed to only their seventh league defeat of the season when they were beaten 3-1 by Tranmere Rovers in their televised Good Friday match at Prenton Park.

They conceded two penalties in the first 12 minutes, had goalkeeper Fraser Forster sent off for the second time this season and boss Lambert was sent to the stand.

City's lead was cut to 10 points after Millwall moved into second place with a 1-1 draw at home to Brentford.

Trailing 3-0 at the interval to Ian Thomas-Moore's two spot-kicks and a goal by Craig Curran that appeared to come with the assistance of an arm, City reduced the arrears after 58 minutes through skipper Grant Holt's 29th goal of the season, but for once they were unable to stage one of their dramatic late comebacks.

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But Lambert was not critical of the players, reserving his anger for the match official from Tyne and Wear.

He said: “The most pleasing thing was we kept on going but some of the decisions, I think, were bizarre.”

The first penalty, in the sixth minute, was awarded for handball against Darel Russell, but full-back Russell Martin was the player booked. The second penalty came when Forster was adjudged to have brought down Thomas-Moore, and was sent off.

Said Lambert: “I couldn't see the first one. I'd have to see that again. But he's booked the wrong player - he booked Russell Martin.

“The second one I haven't seen. But the third goal was definitely handball so why he's allowed that I don't know.

“I think the game was too big for him. I think being here with the cameras on him, he wanted to be the main point of attention.

“It was really shocking, I thought, but the good thing is the players kept on going to try to get the game back when we were down to 10 men. It's a quick turnaround on Monday and we have to go again.”

Lambert was not dissatisfied with his players efforts as they prepare to face Stockport at Carrow Road on Monday (3pm) without Forster, who starts a two-match ban.

He said: “Grant had one where he went round the goalkeeper and the guy made a terrific clearance off the line.

“We had chances. We had a lot of the ball. I wasn't as disappointed as I thought I would have been because we kept on going and the crowd stayed with us.”

Lambert's own dismissal to the stand, where he had to sit with City directors, came on the hour when he ran on the field to kick the ball back after a stoppage in play.

Gary Karsa, head of football operations, was also sent to the stand.

Lambert insisted: “I never said a word. All I did was kick the ball back, to keep the ball in play. To send me off for that . . . I've not even said anything to him until he sent me off.

“He just said 'You're off'. I've done it a million times this season - get on the pitch and kick the ball back to keep the game flowing.

“I just thought that game was too big for that referee.”

The irony of Tranmere manager Les Parry's frequent appearances on the pitch - he doubles up as club physio - was not lost on Lambert.

“For me not to get sent off or booked I should sack the physio and take a sponge or a medical bag with me!” he said.

Substitute goalkeeper Declan Rudd was outstanding after replacing Forster and plays against Stockport.

“I've got no problem. Declan's proved that he can do it. Fraser's been in incredible form for us this year but Declan will go in” said Lambert.

Korey Smith, who missed last night's match with a thigh injury, remains a doubt for the Stockport game.

“I'll have to wait and see how he feels,” said Lambert, but he is still happy with City's position with seven matches left.

He said: “Millwall drew 1-1 and we're still sitting in a really unbelievable position and we're at home on Monday so we'll go to try to win that.

“We'll come out of the traps and the crowd will come in their thousands again and get behind us.

“They were brilliant tonight. It's a long, long way to come and I'm disappointed we couldn't do it for them. They saw that we kept on going in the second half.”

City players were not made available to reporters to comment on Friday night's game.