Race on to find a new Norwich City boss

Norwich City were in the hunt for a new manager last night after confirming that Paul Lambert had resigned.

The Canaries announced that they had not accepted Lambert’s resignation “while discussions with another club are taking place” – but there was an air of farewell about their official statement and it appears only a matter of time before he is appointed as the new boss at Aston Villa, where he is reported to be the one and only candidate to replace Alex McLeish.

After three remarkable seasons in charge at Carrow Road, in which he took the club from the lower reaches of League One to 12th place in the Premier League, the 42-year-old Lambert was reported to have quit after managerless Villa were refused permission to speak to him – though City’s own statement denied reports of a fall-out.

Birmingham boss Chris Hughton and Cardiff City manager and ex-Canary defender Malky Mackay – two men whose clubs were beaten in the Championship play-off semi-finals – were quickly installed as the bookmakers’ leading candidates to take over if and when the former Scotland international’s exit is confirmed.

City’s statement, issued yesterday afternoon, read: “The club regrets to confirm that Paul Lambert has offered his resignation from his position as Norwich City manager.

“We have fought hard to keep Paul at Norwich and have not accepted his resignation while discussions with another club are taking place. However, whatever happens, we want to place on record our sincere gratitude for everything Paul has done for the club over the last three fantastic seasons.”

There was no comment on the future of Lambert’s backroom team – assistant manager Ian Culverhouse and head of football operations Gary Karsa – though the three men have previously moved in tandem, working together at Wycombe, Colchester and Norwich.

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It was reported that Villa made an official approach to Norwich for Lambert on Wednesday, but that it was rejected, leading to the manager’s decision to resign.

But the club’s statement read: “Discussions with Paul throughout the last few days have been professional and amicable. Paul has already earned his place in Norwich City Football Club history and, no matter what happens, will always have a friendly welcome at Carrow Road.”

The past three seasons have brought City nothing but success, with the League One title in 2010 followed by promotion as Championship runners-up in 2011 and a mid-table finish in the Premier League.

The Canaries kicked off five successive seasons, from 2006 to 2010, with five different managers, but their success under Lambert has brought greater stability and prosperity, with the club receiving �45.6m from TV rights alone last season.

Whoever takes over as manager will have the task of consolidating the club’s top-flight status, and it will be a mightily difficult act to follow.

Mackay was a hugely popular figure as a player in six years at Norwich, but recently signed an extension to his Cardiff contract, taking him through to 2016, after guiding the team to the Carling Cup final and a play-off place.

Hughton led Birmingham to fourth place in the Championship in his first season after previously taking Newcastle up as champions.

Other names mentioned so far include two men currently out of work, former City assistant manager Lee Clark and ex-Canary skipper Steve Bruce, axed by Huddersfield and Sunderland, respectively, last season. Brighton’s Gus Poyet and MK Dons boss Karl Robinson are potential outsiders.

Former winger Darren Eadie said City must take their time in making the appointment.

He said last night: “Norwich are on a stable footing, they don’t need to rush. The new manager needs a little bit of experience, but most of all he needs to be keen.

“Those kind of people seem to get the best out of the sort of players we’ve got at Norwich at the moment. They must be driven and want to succeed.

“There are a lot of people who have been around the block a few times and haven’t succeeded.”

• Leading bookmakers’ odds on the next Norwich City manager

William Hill: Chris Hughton 5/4, Malky Mackay 7/4, Steve Bruce 3/1, Lee Clark, Ian Culverhouse 10/1, Alan Curbishley, Ian Holloway, Gus Poyet, Gianfranco Zola 14/1.

Sky Bet: Mackay 11/8, Hughton 7/4, Bruce 6/1, Culverhouse 9/1, Clark, Poyet 10/1, Holloway 12/1, Dougie Freedman, Karl Robinson 14/1.

Stan James: Hughton 7/4, Mackay 2/1, Bruce 6/1, Culverhouse, Curbishley 10/1, Poyet 12/1, Zola 14/1