Norwich City’s defence under the spotlight

Norwich City are hoping 13 will prove to be a lucky number when they face fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers tomorrow.

The Canaries have not kept a clean sheet in their first 12 Premier League matches – only they and Blackburn have yet to record a shut-out in the top flight this season.

Paul Lambert’s men came very close to keeping out Stoke and Sunderland, but both teams managed late goals at Carrow Road.

There is at least one good omen as City take on Rangers (3pm) in that Neil Warnock’s side were beaten 1-0 in the corresponding fixture in the Championship last season, courtesy of Russell Martin’s early goal. But since that match on New Year’s Day, Norwich have managed just one clean sheet in 18 home games in all competitions, and that was in the 6-0 hammering of Scunthorpe United in April.

It has not helped their cause that defensive resources have been stretched this season, with on-loan Ritchie de Laet becoming the fourth central defender to be sidelined when he missed last week’s 2-1 home defeat by Arsenal because of a back problem.

Lambert was expected to give an update today on the progress of De Laet, as well as Zak Whitbread (hamstring) and Daniel Ayala (knee), both out of action since August, while Elliott Ward has not kicked a ball this season because of a persistent knee injury, sustained on the pre-season tour of Germany.

QPR moved above City with their 3-2 win at Stoke last week, but Warnock has his own injury problems.

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Heidar Helguson scored twice in that victory but suffered a facial injury, while fellow goalscorer Luke Young is among the doubtfuls along with Jay Bothroyd, Danny Gabbidon and Armand Traore. Skipper Joey Barton is suspended after picking up five yellow cards.

D J Campbell, Kieron Dyer, Matt Connolly and goalkeeper Brian Murphy are also ruled out. Though both sides are in mid-table, they are conscious that it is the kind of game they most need to win to stay out of the trouble zone, and City are looking to end a run of four games without a victory since beating the third promoted team, Swansea, 3-1.

“I think we are competing with the ones around about us and the ones below us. That is our barometer – to see if we can compete with them,” Lambert told fans at the annual meeting this week.

And Rangers forward Jamie Mackie expects tomorrow’s meeting to be as tough as the game at the Britannia Stadium.

“We’re under no illusions as to how hard it’s going to be. It’ll be every bit as difficult as the game at Stoke,” Mackie told “They’ve done well at home, they play at a really high tempo and we need to make sure our mentality is right. We’ve got games against the teams around us now, and these are the really important ones where we have to go and get a result.”