Millwall should prove big test
Norwich boss Paul Lambert warns today's Boxing Day tussle with Millwall could be the acid test of his side's League One promotion credentials.
By PADDY DAVITT
Norwich boss Paul Lambert warns today's Boxing Day tussle with Millwall could be the acid test of his side's League One promotion credentials. (12.45pm)
City have swept all before them at Carrow Road in recent weeks but Lambert is under no illusions an eighth consecutive home win against the Lions will be a major achievement.
Last season's beaten play-off finalists are course and distance specialists at this level after knocking out powerhouses Leeds on the way to Wembley in May before losing to Scunthorpe.
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Kenny Jackett's men head to Norfolk within a point of the top six this time around and buoyed by a hard-earned derby day draw at Charlton when the south Londoners survived for nearly an hour with ten men.
“They've got some good players there and Kenny's been about for a long time in the management game,” said Lambert. “But I think we're a totally different proposition to what a lot of people think we are. We're playing really well, the lads are on top of their game, they seem to be enjoying their football at the minute, which is pleasing, and once we get going we're a really good side.
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“They've had a week to recover from the Charlton game so I don't think it will take that much out of them. They'll be buoyant from it, that they never capitulated in coming back from being beaten and then the lad being sent off, so I'm sure they'll come here in good fettle, that's for sure.”
Lambert has to solve a central defensive conundrum with first choice pair Gary Doherty (suspended) and Jens Berthel Askou (foot) both unavailable.
Michael Nelson is Lambert's only fit senior centre half on the books with Russell Martin or Adam Drury favourite to partner the ex-Hartlepool man.
“We need to look somewhere, we'll have to look at something along those lines,” said Lambert. “He's been brilliant, he really has (the Doc). He's been different class. The pleasing thing for himself is that he was left out of the team, he's come back in, not sulked or anything like that. He's got on with it and he's really on top of his game at the minute. Saturday's a tough game, really tough. But we're at home and playing really well at the minute, and if we can keep playing the way we have been and the crowd are right on our side, we're a formidable team.”
Another Carrow Road home sell out today will take the total league attendances through the 250,000 mark for the season - a key factor in City's promotion push insists Lambert.
“It's a great thing to have, the pressure on your shoulders and 25,000 on your back willing you on,” he said. “It's how you perform to your maximum. You've got to win more games than not at home to give yourself any sort of chance and coming here, the fan base the club's got is incredible and you see it. It's like a proper football game where you're getting people in their droves. I can't remember which opposition manager said to me coming down to the game he said he could tell it was a proper game they were coming into because you very rarely get these sort of crowds, apart from ourselves, Leeds, Charlton, Southampton.
“They all get big crowds and here is no different, and the teams coming here can either thrive on it or buckle under it and thankfully a lot of teams have not been able to handle it.”
Lambert is well aware pleasing the Norfolk nation is a test of his own players' mettle.
“The crowd can also work against you, because if another team gets a corner you can hear the grumbling. If another team gets about three passes, you think 'my god',” he said. “So it can go against you. I know what it's like. You're only as good as your last pass here, and it's a great thing to have because if you make one bad pass I'm pretty sure you won't try and do it again, because you can hear the grumblings of it.
“What you try and do is beat people before they come in your front door, that's what you try and do. You try and intimidate people or teams to think if you're going to go away with something they're going to have to play really well to beat us. All the great teams have that intimidation about them before they even go out and that's what you try and build up here.”
City's preparations have again been hampered by the seasonal snow with Lambert's squad forced to switch to Carrow Road for outdoor training. The Scot, however, has ruled out a sluggish start from his men after last weekend's patchy opening stanza against Huddersfield.
“It was nothing to do with that (the weather),” he said. “We just were jaded a little bit in the first half, but credit where it's due I thought that's the best performance I've seen since I've been here. If you can just get them in there when you're not doing well, the pleasing thing is you hang in for as long as you can and they did that, regrouped in the second half and got their second wind.
“The crowd galvanises people as well and I thought second half, absolutely brilliant, they were. Yes, we have had to go in the dome and it's not ideal because certain players can't go in there due to their bodies. It's a great facility and in times like this it's really beneficial, but in an ideal world you wouldn't go in there.”