Man of match Wes 'best player in division'
David Cuffley Both managers praised the performance of Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan after he produced another impressive display in the 2-0 Boxing Day home win over Millwall. City boss Paul Lambert said the star Irish forward was “unplayable at times”, while Lions manager Kenny Jackett labelled him “probably the outstanding player in the division”.
Both managers praised the performance of Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan after he produced another impressive display in the 2-0 Boxing Day home win over Millwall.
City boss Paul Lambert said the star Irish forward was “unplayable at times”, while Lions manager Kenny Jackett labelled him “probably the outstanding player in the division”.
Hoolahan scored his 13th goal of the season in the first half and set up skipper Grant Holt for his 20th of the campaign after the break as City's biggest crowd of the season witnessed their eighth successive home victory in League One, a result that closed the gap to two points on second-placed Charlton.
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Lambert, who first signed Hoolahan from Ireland four years ago when he was Livingston manager, said the 27-year-old was performing at his peak.
He said: “He's brilliant. His performances . . . he's been unplayable at times. He can make things happen, which is a rare commodity in a game of football these days.
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“He hasn't really changed much from when I first saw him playing with Shelbourne, but we've found a position for him where he's unplayable at the moment. He's got 13 goals, which is phenomenal, because his assists must be pretty high as well. He can finish, he goes by people as if they're not there at times - he's a talented footballer, very talented.
“It was a world-class cross for Grant, but it's never easy to head it when you've got the goal gaping. It was a big, big finish, but the cross was terrific.”
Hoolahan, who collected another official man of the match award, has revelled in his role behind strikers Holt and Chris Martin and the three have already scored 46 goals between them this season.
“His game awareness and knowledge is very, very good,” said Lambert. “His ability was never in doubt but what we did find is a position where he can make things happen in the centre of the pitch.”
City were without centre-back pair Gary Doherty, serving a one-match ban, and Jens Berthel Askou, who has a foot injury, so Lambert paired full-back Russell Martin with Michael Nelson in the middle of the defence.
“In the second half, Russell Martin and Michael Nelson were outstanding. I thought Michael was terrific in the centre of defence,” he said.
“Russell's played there a couple of times but not to the point where you think he's going to be a mainstay centre-half.”
The team was also disrupted by the loss of Darel Russell at half-time with a hamstring problem, while Stephen Hughes departed after an hour after aggravating a calf problem. Both will be assessed before Monday's trip to Walsall (3pm). Matthew Gill and Tom Adeyemi, respectively, came off the bench to replace Russell and Hughes.
“Rusty's got a slight hamstring strain and Stephen's had the effects of the injury from the game he missed at Southampton, so we had to reshuffle but it's a big credit to the lads that came in,” said Lambert. “They know the system, Gilly came in and did really, really fine and young Tom came on and did well as well. Whoever I seem to throw on at the moment, they never let me down.
“We just have to wait and see with Darel, but he's a doubt. We're a bit more hopeful Stephen's going to be OK.”
Korey Smith, who has missed three games with a thigh strain, “might have a chance” of being fit for Monday's game.
Lambert said he was impressed with Millwall but delighted with his own players' display in front of an expectant 25,242 crowd.
He said: “I thought the lads were great again and some of the football we're playing is exceptional.
“They (Millwall) are as good a team as has been here, there's no doubt about that. They had a terrific result last week and we knew it was going to be a tough game - Boxing Day, big crowd, all those sorts of things. Sometimes it's easier to play against our crowd than for it because the expectancy level is always on you.
“We've got that to cope with, the opposition to cope with, who are a good side, and again we delivered. And some of the football was terrific.”
Millwall boss Jackett was disappointed his side failed to capitalise on a bright start.
He said: “I felt we started the game very well. Our best period was up to Norwich's first goal, where we missed some chances and generally gave them some problems.
“From the first goal they could just hold us off just slightly and they just had enough, not by a mile, to keep us there.”
A half-chance for substitute Jason Price at 2-0 down might just have given them a lifeline for the last 20 minutes, said Jackett.
“We needed Price's chance to go in from Steve Morison's flick,” he said. “We needed that opportunity to maybe lift us but I just felt they could do enough to keep their noses in front and in Hoolahan they have probably the outstanding player in the division. He looked it today.
“That's eight straight wins for Norwich at home and they look a very strong side with some good individual players.”
The Lions have won just once in 12 attempts away from home.
“Our home form has been good but assessing our season after 23 games you would point straight to our away results,” said Jackett.
“We're nibbling on the edge and without a doubt with a lot of games to go we're looking to build on what we've done and break into the top six.”