Norwich City can show how far they have come in two years

Norwich City’s progress over the past two years can be neatly summed up by tonight’s Premier League fixture at Carrow Road, according to manager Paul Lambert.

Just over two years ago, Sunderland were the visitors for a televised Carling Cup second round tie with the two clubs two divisions apart, and the Canaries were hammered 4-1.

It was Lambert’s second game in charge after arriving from Colchester, the start of a remarkable journey that has taken City from League One back to the top flight, and he believes it will be a different ball game this evening (8pm).

“We played Sunderland when we were in League One and we got turned over in that game, but it’s a different atmosphere, I think, this time,” said Lambert.

“It’s totally different from that time. We were finding our feet and we were up against a Premiership side that was two divisions higher and we were just new into it, but I think it shows you how far Norwich have come as a football club, on the field and off it. I hope we have moved on in the two years we’ve been here.

“But I know how hard it’s going to be. It will be really tough. They’ve got really top players in their side.

“I think home advantage is the only difference between us. They’re an established Premier League side. If you look at the players they’ve brought in in the summer, they’re really, really strong and they will add to the players they’ve got.”

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Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, in his third season in charge, was under what he described as “so-called pressure” until they registered their first victory of the campaign eight days ago, beating Stoke 4-0.

Lambert sympathises with the former Norwich skipper.

He said: “I think Steve has taken so much unfair criticism, it’s not right, but that’s the nature of the game.

“I think he was getting stick after about three games, which is bizarre, really. But that’s football nowadays. It seems any mistake you make you’re getting heavily criticised for it.”

City chalked up their first win 24 hours before Sunderland with the 2-1 success at Bolton, a victory that has bolstered belief in the squad but not, said Lambert, changed his own mood.

“It’s just the same as it was the week before,” he said. “I very rarely change from winning or losing or drawing. I never get carried away when I win and I don’t get too low when I lose.

“I’m pretty sure the win last week will have heightened the players’ belief. But right from the off against Wigan I thought they played well. I thought we played well against Stoke and maybe should have seen the game through. At Chelsea I thought we were excellent. In the West Brom game we got beaten but again the performance was pretty high and against Bolton I though we were excellent.

“We have to try to keep the same level of performance that we’ve been showing of late and if we do that, hopefully we’ll win the game. We’re at home, the onus is on us. Sunderland got a terrific win last week and it’s going to be really, really tough but we’re certainly playing well enough.”

There are no clues about Lambert’s likely selection tonight, except that injured defensive trio Zak Whitbread (hamstring), Elliott Ward (knee) and Daniel Ayala (knee) are still sidelined. Whitbread is expected to return to training this week.

“Whatever team I pick I hope will win,” he said. “Every player I trust. The lads who I pick, I trust them. I don’t think anybody’s inferior to any other person.

“I never have that worry that they won’t give me everything they’ve got. That’s one thing I’ve always felt here. I’ve never thought they’ve not been at it, apart from the MK Dons game, but one game in two and a bit years is exceptional. The way they’ve been playing, they’ve been excellent.”

After his successful afternoon alongside Leon Barnett in the centre of defence at Bolton, one of six changes from the defeat by West Bromwich Albion, Russell Martin will be hoping to keep his place tonight.

“I think Russell’s a good talker but he’s also a lad that’s never let me down, even when I had him at Wycombe,” said Lambert.

“He’s somebody that I trust and that’s really, really important. I thought against Kevin Davies and Klasnic, he and Leon were exceptional.

“I think people respect him in the dressing room, which is always a good thing to have but one thing about Russell, he never lets me down.

“He played against Millwall in that position here and played very well that day as well.

“The good thing about Russell is, for somebody who’s relatively young, he’s played a hell of a lot of football games. He knows the game and one thing you can never question with him is a desire to go and do his best.”

With five points from their first five games, City will be out to improve that average before an October programme that includes trips to Manchester United and Liverpool, but other than a determination to stay in the top flight, Lambert has set no target for where he expects his team to finish.

“I never set my stall out to say we’re going to finish mid-table or anything like that. We try and win as many games as we can and see what we can do,” he said.

Sunderland are again without full-back Phil Bardsley, sitting out the second game in a four-match suspension after being charged on video evidence with a second sending-off offence for the season during the 2-1 home defeat by Chelsea.

Midfielder David Meyler, goalkeeper Craig Gordon and Fraizer Campbell are still working their way back to fitness.