Lambert's priorities are laid bare
Paddy Davitt Blackburn Rovers 3, Norwich City 1: Paul Lambert has much more in common with Sir Alex Ferguson than mere Scottish genes. Ferguson, and for that matter his great Premier League managerial rival Arsene Wenger, have long since used the League Cup as a vehicle to blood raw talent.
Blackburn Rovers 3, Norwich City 1
Paul Lambert has much more in common with Sir Alex Ferguson than mere Scottish genes.
Ferguson, and for that matter his great Premier League managerial rival Arsene Wenger, have long since used the League Cup as a vehicle to blood raw talent. Or keep fringe players ticking over.
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Both make no secret of the fact their priorities lie elsewhere. Domestic league glory and adventures in foreign fields.
Lambert has to mould a squad capable of competing at the right end of the Championship. A squad clearly lacking the depth and quality of riches available only to a privileged few at the pinnacle of the British game.
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Post-match confirmation of Michael Nelson's ankle ligament injury and the inevitable lay off carried far greater significance to City's stated ambitions this season than Mame Biram Diouf's Carling Cup hat-trick.
Nevertheless, Jens Berthel Askou's composed display at Ewood Park alongside Elliott Ward must have encouraged Lambert ahead of Saturday's testing league trip to Nottingham Forest.
Askou was largely a peripheral figure in the club's surge to the League One title after an untimely injury opened the door for Nelson to partner Gary Doherty.
The Dane could now be the beneficiary in an ironic twist of fate that is the bittersweet life of a professional footballer.
Lambert also gained further proof he has two more youngsters ready to play a part in the battles ahead. Arguably a bit part, but Declan Rudd and George Francomb did not look out of place in such rarefied surroundings against Premier League opposition.
Both were playing FA Youth Cup football barely 17 months ago.
Rudd has a maturity beyond his teenage years. An inner confidence which displayed itself within minutes of the kick-off when he flew off his line to pluck Vince Grella's deep cross out of the air.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce forged a reputation at Bolton as one of the game's forward-thinking managers. Ready and willing to embrace sports science and new theories to maximise his resources. Allardyce is also old school. A tough, gnarled centre-half in his playing days.
Big Sam had clearly done his homework and the Canaries appeared vulnerable in the absence of recognised left-back Adam Drury.
Time and again in the opening exchanges Rovers drove at the ever willing Russell Martin. Askou came to the rescue at Rudd's near post after Morten Pedersen and Brett Emerton forced a string of early corners.
Grella's diagonal ball to man mountain Chris Samba was a portent of things to come.
Diouf snaffled up the first of numerous knockdowns but miscued eight yards out, while Grella's snapshot squirmed through to Rudd.
Emerton cut inside Martin and Simon Lappin but drifted his cross out of play. City struggled to hold their own in the early sparring.
Ward threw his towering frame in front of Amine Linganzi's bouncing half volley. Rudd expertly parried Pedersen's glancing near post header.
City needed to relieve the mounting pressure. Wes Hoolahan bought a free-kick from Linganzi. Grant Holt's flick header from Lappin's teasing cross flew straight to Bunn. Better from City.
David Fox then volleyed wide 25 yards out. The visitors visibly growing in confidence. Until Blackburn broke the deadlock with the simplest of training ground set piece routines.
Pedersen's throw flicked on by Samba at the near post for the unmarked Diouf to ghost in around the back stick.
The sort of goal Allardyce built a reputation on in a different Lancashire post code.
But Lambert's men rallied to push Rovers back for the remainder of the opening period.
Holt and Hoolahan created space for Matty Gill who tried an elaborate inside pass to the feet of Simeon Jackson.
Pascal Chimbonda was forced to head Lappin's probing cross behind for City's first corner.
Hoolahan teed up Fox who volleyed over again and Jackson unleashed a left footer from the edge of the area that Bunn must have seen late but managed to claw around his post.
It was all City. A dominant spell brought to an abrupt halt by the half time whistle.
Holt drilled at Bunn on the restart. The pattern looked set. Jackson came off second best in a physical challenge with Samba but forlorn penalty appeals were waved away.
Rudd twice advanced from his line to make last ditch clearing blocks. The game was becoming increasingly stretched. The cup tie on a knife edge.
Bunn acrobatically tipped over Holt's powerful header from Fox's corner.
Either side of Paul Robinson's deputy and City were on level terms. But it was the skipper's final meaningful contribution. Withdrawn minutes later alongside Hoolahan - a move that told you everything about Lambert's list of priorities this week.
Linganzi's first time effort cracked the base of Rudd's post. Diouf then crashed a free header against Norwich's crossbar.
The pressure was mounting. City finally subsided 10 minutes from the end.
Rudd could only parry Pedersen's back post header into Mame Diouf's path, who hooked past the grounded keeper.
The Norwegian then picked out his unmarked strike partner to complete his hat-trick from point blank range.
City's mix of young guns and shadow squad had hit the proverbial wall.
Bunn denied Stephen Hughes from 10 yards and Blackburn's number two looked to be inching towards a clean sheet when Askou rose at the back post in stoppage time to re-direct Fox's corner.