New signings eager to make impact
David Cuffley Norwich City's two new recruits have declared themselves ready for the toughest of challenges - trying to force their way into a winning team. Manager Paul Lambert made it four signings in less than a week when Millwall defender Zak Whitbread and Stockport striker Oli Johnson arrived for undisclosed fees yesterday, each agreeing 2�-year deals.
Norwich City's two new recruits have declared themselves ready for the toughest of challenges - trying to force their way into a winning team.
Manager Paul Lambert made it four signings in less than a week when Millwall defender Zak Whitbread and Stockport striker Oli Johnson arrived for undisclosed fees yesterday, each agreeing 2�-year deals.
But the 25-year-old Whitbread and 22-year-old Johnson both know they have a fight on their hands to break into a side that has lost just once in 16 League One games.
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Whitbread, born in Houston, a USA Under-23 international, is a holder of American and British passports, but grew up in the north of England. A left-sided centre-half, he must first recapture full fitness after being sidelined this season by a hip injury.
He began his career with Liverpool, making six first team appearances, before playing 92 times in four years with Millwall, losing the League One play-off final to Scunthorpe last season.
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He said: “We got to the play-off final. It was disappointing. It was a long season, we got close, we beat Leeds in the semis but it wasn't to be and I'm hoping to crack on again this year and achieve that with Norwich.
“I came down two days ago to speak to the gaffer and I've been really impressed. It's a massive club. It matches my ambition when you see the crowds week in, week out and I'd like to jump on board and move forward with this club, moving up a league next season.”
Playing alongside Liverpool's big names gave him a perfect grounding in the game, he said.
“They've all achieved so much and for me, just coming through from the academy, it was great to rub shoulders with them,” he said. “But I didn't want to sit about, talking about playing with these players. I wanted to move on myself and get an opportunity to do as much as I can in the game. It was a great start for me, a platform to kick on and achieve my own goals.”
Johnson, who was eligible for today's home game against Exeter City, appeared briefly against the Canaries when they won 3-1 at Stockport in October and he was impressed with the visitors that day.
He said: “I only came on as a sub and played about 10 minutes. I was impressed with the way they wanted to play football, their philosophies, trying to play the right way, positive. I was impressed with them as a team - one of the best teams I've seen in League One.
“I know it's going to be difficult and I will have to perform to get in the team but I'm willing to be patient and fight for my chance and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a challenge but that's what I came here for.
“I've been playing professionally only about 15, 16 months. I've still got a lot to learn in the game.”
Lambert said he was delighted with his double capture.
He said: “Zak has played an awful lot of games and Oli, just being a young one, is starting off.
“Zak was somebody I always liked. I never thought I could get him, to be perfectly honest and then things transpired and I managed to try to sell the club to him.
“I think he'll be terrific here once he gets fully match fit and once he gets right involved, he will be a big player for us. We just need to get him up to speed and I hope it's not too long before he's right in the mix.
“I saw Oli last year with Stockport and his ratio was six goals in nine games, which is a big return for somebody who came out of non-League. It's an opportunity for him. I said I needed lads who were hungry and enthusiastic to do well and he will give us that.
“He might see Holt and Hoolahan and Chris Martin in front of him, which is fine, but he'll come in and learn and when he's on he has to take his chance.”