Norwich City line-up is starting to take shape
Chris Lakey Paul Lambert is the sort of man who lives the footballing cliches. 'We take one game at a time' - he does. 'We're now start thinking about the next game' - he is. And, perhaps more importantly, 'first things first'.
Paul Lambert is the sort of man who lives the footballing cliches.
“We take one game at a time” - he does.
“We're now start thinking about the next game” - he is.
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And, perhaps more importantly, “first things first”.
When Everton walk out at Carrow Road this afternoon there will be those who will delve deep into the memory bank and recall past glories. Of the glorious 1992-93 campaign, perhaps, when City won 1-0 at Goodison on their way to third place in the inaugural Premier League. Or the following season, when Efan Ekoku scored four times as City won 5-1 on Merseyside and then beat the Toffees 3-0 at Carrow Road.
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Lambert will point out that memories is what they are: they have no bearing on what happens in the here and now. Everton may bring some of the top-flight glamour with them today, but no one is putting down a pot containing three Premier League points for the winners. So best not ask Lambert if City's final friendly of the season is a fixture he'd love to see for real one day.
“I'll just dream about the Championship first before we go anywhere else,” he says. “We know we are in for a hard, hard season, but we have earned the right to play there.”
For Everton, this is their final pre-season game against domestic opponents - they entertain Everton Chile next Wednesday before wrapping up their preparations with a game in Germany against Wolfsburg four days later. Their eighth-place finish last season proves they are quality opponents.
“But so are Newcastle,” points out Lambert. “I saw that with my own eyes, Newcastle are a really good side. Everton will be equally so. David Moyes has done an incredibe job there - it's a hard game.”
That 2-1 win over Newcastle a week ago was encouraging for City fans, who saw a new-look midfield and a new formation - Wes Hoolahan playing behind the front two and in front of a straight three of Andrew Surman, David Fox and Andrew Crofts - passing the ball around.
The Lambert verdict was, “we look a very good side when we pass the ball around” - and they did. But the rider is always that pre-season fixtures mean little when it comes to the real McCoy.
Don't expect any clues to complete next week's big question - who starts against Watford. Grant Holt watched the friendly at Lincoln from the stands and he will be in contention for the Championship opener: the problem Lambert has is the skipper's lack of game time. Perhaps he will be tempted to arrange a behind-closed-doors friendly at Colney next week to get some minutes under the Holt belt. If he does, the chances are it will be Holt and Chris Martin up front.
The aforementioned midfield four appears to be set in stone. They've looked a good unit in pre-season and importantly they are all up to speed on the fitness front. The bonus is that Lambert has plenty of cover/competition - Simon Lappin, Stephen Hughes, Korey Smith and Anthony McNamee - although Smith has some catching up to do after a bang on the shin against Dagenham.
Defensively, it's John Ruddy in goal -although the two teenagers, Declan Rudd and Jed Steer, really are coming on a treat. Rudd has been away with the England Under-19s on European Championship duty, leaving Steer to cover - and the lad appears to have taken it in his stride. At Lincoln he was vocal and showed a clean pair of hands - one miskick was his only worry.
In front of Ruddy it looks like Adam Drury at left back again and Russell Martin at right back - it's the middle where there is a little confusion.
The candidates are Elliot Ward, Zak Whitbread, Michael Nelson and Jens Berthel Askou. The consensus is that Ward and Whitbread will be the first choices, but there are issues: Whitbread struggled with injuries last season and is out again with a calf injury - he has missed the last three senior friendlies - while Ward was a late starter having picked up a minor knock. Nelson has genuine claims for a start, but Askou is playing catch-up, having spent 10 days in his native Denmark where his wife gave birth to their third child.
Ward, Nelson and Askou should be available today, and Whitbread won't be far away -- but there's a difference between shaking off an injury and being match fit. At the moment, Nelson and Ward appear to be the front-runners.