Norwich City out to right wrongs
Chris Lakey Norwich City don't usually need any more incentive to win a game than the thought of winning back their place in the Championship. But three blasts of a referee's whistle on Friday night at Tranmere ensures there will be just that little extra riding on this afternoon's home game against Stockport County.
Norwich City don't usually need any more incentive to win a game than the thought of winning back their place in the Championship.
But three blasts of a referee's whistle on Friday night at Tranmere ensures there will be just that little extra riding on this afternoon's home game against Stockport County.
Eddie Ilderton's woeful performance in charge at Prenton Park helped condemn City to a surprise 3-1 defeat: by two penalties, one dodgy, one slightly less so, and a goal that should have disallowed for handball by scorer Craig Curran.
Mr Ilderton also sent manager Paul Lambert to the stands for having the temerity to walk on to the field after play had been stopped and kicking the ball towards where a free-kick was to be taken.
Lambert was remarkably restrained after the game - although he refused to allow interviews with any of his players.
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Perhaps the cushion City have at the top persuaded him that blowing his top was unnecessary.
You do wonder, though, what the FA will think when they receive Lambert's marks for the official's performance.
It was a bad night at the office, but while City came out of it with much credit, they also came out of it without a goalkeeper for the rest of this week.
Fraser Forster was red-carded for the second penalty incident, when he brought down Ian Thomas-Moore and, with a sending off at Gillingham already on his CV from earlier in the season, will miss two games.
Declan Rudd came on at Tranmere and did very well, with a handful of fine saves. Lambert will have no concerns about playing the youngster.
Whether that change, albeit enforced, is the only one, remains to be seen.
City ran their socks off trying to retrieve something from the game and playing with just 10 men for around 80 minutes will have taken its toll: the sight of Tranmere walking through the final stages, not through their time-wasting tactics, but through exhaustion, indicates just how hard the City players worked.
It's a quick turn-around for all teams, but Lambert might be tempted to rest a few weary legs, given today's opponents.
Stockport are bottom of the table and surely heading for League Two, so didn't need any extra hurdles put in their way this afternoon - but a City team hell bent on righting a few wrongs from Friday will be just that.
Stick in a few fresh legs and it might go horribly wrong.
Lambert didn't have Korey Smith for Friday's trip and may be tempted, but if he has recovered, it's a straight choice between him and Stephen Hughes.
Stephen Elliott replaced Chris Martin up front for the second game in a row, but didn't reappear for the second half: again, you'd expect it to be a straight call between the two.
Of the other candidates for a squad place, the biggest claims for a start will be made by centre-half Zak Whitbread and winger Anthony McNamee.
The centre-backs struggled at times in the first half on Friday - Gary Doherty's error led to the second spot kick and Forster's red card - and Whitbread is a player who has looked classy in his fleeting appearances.
McNamee had three starts in a changed formation during Darel Russell's suspension, set up goals in each game, and looked a threat. Might Lambert consider resting Russell, or even Wes Hoolahan?
The fact that Stockport are where they are - they've lost nine out of 16 games in 2010, including their last four away - could have a bearing on Lambert's thinking, even if he might not admit it.
On the flip-side, his scouts will have told him that County could have done much better than simply draw with Walsall at the weekend.
Certainly their manager, Gary Ablett, gave a beaming assessment of their performance, bemoaning only the lack of a killer instinct against a side that played most of the game with only 10 men.
"We're massively disappointed with that result, but certainly not the performance," he said.
"I think we've had 28 attempts at goal and had 13 corners, but we just couldn't get that winner.
"The sending-off did change the game, but our whole approach was top class. I won't be having a go at any of the players.
"We tried to get the ball in the right areas and we've created lots of chances; in fact Walsall have defended magnificently.
"We dictated the tempo throughout, we were a constant threat.
"I think in our three most recent home games against Gillingham, Oldham and Brentford we created enough chances to have won five or six games, and after this result that pretty much sums our season up."