Grant backs under-fire troops

DAVID CUFFLEY Manager Peter Grant has mounted a spirited defence of his depleted Norwich City squad ahead of tonight's crucial Coca-Cola Championship battle at Luton.


Manager Peter Grant has mounted a spirited defence of his depleted Norwich City squad ahead of tonight's crucial Coca-Cola Championship battle at Luton.

The Hatters will go above the Canaries if they beat them at Kenilworth Road (7.45pm), a sobering thought after fellow strugglers Barnsley's 1-0 win at Stoke last night put more pressure on the teams around them at the wrong end of the table.

Barnsley are now 19th and level on points with City, who they welcome to Oakwell on Saturday, although they have played three games more.

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City players came under fire with chants of “rubbish” from the home crowd during Saturday's 1-1 draw against Coventry, a result that left them with just nine points from their last 12 Championship games, and brought another R-word, relegation, into the equation.

But, as concern grows over his team's drift towards the trouble zone, Grant applauded the determination of his players in the absence of key men such as Robert Earnshaw, Dion Dublin and David Marshall.

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He said: “The one thing that gives me confidence is the spirit they've shown. In every game, they've kept going and going and shown great determination. We could have won the game 4-1 on Saturday.

“Even though we played poorly and the crowd were getting on their case, I thought at the end of the game we were disappointed to draw and I think they could see there was a spirit there. I think people have got to understand what we're missing more than anything else. If Drogba or Lampard weren't playing for Chelsea, where would they be at this moment in time?

“And we've lost Earnshaw. That is a massive blow for us. You can't replace that.

“The one thing we have got is the desire to do better, and I don't think you can buy desire.

“If they keep showing that willingness and that desire, they won't be a million miles away and then hopefully we can put the R-word to bed once and for all.”

Grant said it was important not to become a “nervous wreck” looking at the league table.

He said: “You talk about tables and you think I'm being blasé about saying I'm not interested in the table. That's a fact. At the end of the day, May is when things are judged. If I was 10 points clear, I'd be concerned because I'd want to make it 12, 14, 15.

“But if you're down in the other half of the table, you don't want to be sitting on the bench like a nervous wreck and putting all that pressure on everybody else. At the end of the day, we know we've got to win games of football.

“We know what we've got to do but I cannot look at what might be. We've got to just focus on what we can do. The most pleasing thing is that everything is in our hands, nobody else's.

“It's what we do that dictates what happens to us at the end of the season on that day in May.

“You hope that R-word is well out of the road before then, and I'm sure it will be. There's no doubt in my mind about that.

“I genuinely believed up to Saturday that we could make the play-offs. I genuinely did. The two points dropped on Saturday put an end to that. I thought we were well in there and well capable of getting a run if we got everybody fit.”

He said he would not try to blame the fact that he inherited most of his squad.

“I could turn round and say it's not my team, but that would be a total lie.

“Since I came in in October, we should be sitting near the play-offs, no doubt in my mind about that with the group of players I've got available. That's not the case.”

Grant must make a late decision on Darren Huckerby's calf injury, but Chris Brown definitely joins veteran Dublin and fellow striker Peter Thorne on tonight's list of absentees.

Winger Lee Croft and midfielder Youssef Safri could be recalled to the starting line-up.

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