Norwich City trio face fitness battle
Chris Lakey Paul Lambert will be sweating on the fitness of a trio of midfielders this morning as he attempts to launch Norwich City into the automatic promotion places in League One.
Paul Lambert will be sweating on the fitness of a trio of midfielders this morning as he attempts to launch Norwich City into the automatic promotion places in League One.
Victory at Walsall coupled with anything but a Charlton win at Brentford would see City start the new year in second place and complete a remarkable change of fortunes since the miserable early days of 2009 when the club's fall from grace began to accelerate.
But Lambert's hopes depend on the fitness of Darel Russell, Stephen Hughes and Korey Smith. Russell will be monitored today before a decision is made on a hamstring problem which forced out of the 2-0 home win over Millwall at half-time on Saturday.
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Hughes is more likely to feature, although he departed early having felt the effects of a recent calf injury.
The third man in the equation is Smith, who has missed the last three games with a thigh injury but “might have a chance”, according to Lambert.
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On the plus side, Gary Doherty returns from a one-match suspension and could go straight back into the centre of defence alongside Michael Nelson, with Russell Martin returning to right back in place of Jon Otsemobor.
Jens Berthel Askou is still out with a foot injury injured so Lambert's options are limited - although there is a temptation to leave a winning line-up, especially after their clean sheet.
“I thought Michael Nelson was terrific in the centre of defence, and Russell, going in there for the first time, did great,” said Lambert, who also has Declan Rudd (knee), Luke Daley (thigh) and Owain Tudur Jones (groin) sidelined.
“He's played there a couple of times but not where you get to the point where you think he's going to be a mainstay centre-half. He's an option there to be had and as a group and as a team we've been excellent.”
City now start the second half of the campaign in a healthy position - and breathing down Charlton's necks - but knows City can't afford to lose their momentum.
He said: “You are always confident going into games, but whether you get results remains to be seen, but I can't remember what Charlton were ahead of us at one particular stage, and all of a sudden we build up momentum and a head of steam and enthusiasm - “You sense it around the football club when you come here, that fans are just coming and thinking, 'yeh, this is what we want'.”
“I thought the lads were great again. Some of the football they are playing at this moment in time is exceptional.”
Walsall are 10th in League One but go into the game fresher than City, after their trip to Bristol Rovers on Saturday was postponed because of the weather.
It's the first reverse fixture of the season for City, after Walsall came to Carrow Road and left with a point after a 0-0 draw - and remain the only team this season to deny City a goal, home or away, in a league match.
Midfielder Steve Jones is their only concern, having missed recent games with a groin strain.
Skipper Mark Hughes returns to the centre of defence after serving a one-match ban.
The match is all-ticket, with around 2,000 City fans expected to make the journey.