Canaries face a real New Year cracker

CHRIS WISE It promises to be a real New Year cracker as last year's beaten play-off finalists Preston are in excellent heart for Monday's testing clash at Carrow Road.


It promises to be a real New Year cracker as last year's beaten play-off finalists Preston are in excellent heart for Monday's testing clash at Carrow Road.

And with their midweek trip to Plymouth having been postponed they should also be a little fresher than their opponents for a contest between the Championship's two in-form teams.

Meanwhile, Nigel Worthington is optimistic that the Canaries can make the play offs.

He puts Norwich's sudden resurgence down to pure hard work - and believes his side will have an excellent chance of completing the job if they can maintain their current standards for another four months.

"Five or six weeks ago we'd have lost at Leicester, there's no doubt about that, because we were a team who would cave in under pressure,” said the City boss.

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"But we've got steel back in the side now and people are working hard, whereas before some people were simply going through the motions and pretending. We sorted that out and now we are back to the high work ethic that has been an important factor for us ever since I have been manager of this football club.

"I think it's now realistic for us to be talking about a promotion push. Five wins out of five is nice - and now it's time to keep it going.”

Preston manager Billy Davies paid tribute to his players after they had ended the year by stretching their unbeaten run to an impressive 15 games.

That sequence includes no fewer than 10 draws, but there was never any doubt that the Lillywhites would take all three points on Saturday as first half goals from Adam Nowland, Graham Alexander and Chris Sedgwick guided them to a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Coventry.

And Davies can't wait for the Norwich game to come around after watching his side turn in their best display for some time to see off the Sky Blues.

"It was a tremendous first 45 minutes, a tremendous performance from the team and an excellent three points,” he said. “We were 'at it', more like ourselves. The response from the players to finish off 2005 has been first class.

“It's now seven defeats in 47 matches - we are on a good run and we have to keep it going, starting at Norwich on Monday.”

Davies will have to make a change to a winning side at Carrow Road after learning that Manchester United starlet David Jones had decided to try his elsewhere after a successful loan spell at Deepdale.

The England Under-21 player has joined Dutch outfit NEC Nijmegen for the remainder of the season and his absence will leave a big hole in the centre of midfield, with Brian O'Neil poised to fill the gap this evening before the Preston boss attempts to bring some more reinforcements in during the transfer window.

“We have had a lot of transition this season, with the chopping and changing of players,” he said. “Young players have come in. It has been very difficult and now we have to start again. We still have gaps to fill.

"We will look at the market in the next month, with a view to bringing in three to four new faces.”

Davies also repeated his 'hands off' warning to clubs looking to snap up highly-rated striker David Nugent as the January transfer window opens.

The warning came after beaten City boss Micky Adams declared: "If that hasn't clinched his move to Everton, I don't now what has.”

Nugent was denied by the woodwork in an excellent display which helped produce only Preston's third home win of the season.

“Nugent is first class,” said his manager. “But I don't think we have seen the best of him yet. He is getting better after his illness and he thoroughly deserved a goal. Roll on January 31!”

Penalty scorer Alexander said of the continued speculation linking Nugent with a move to the Premiership: "We want him to stay. I think it would be right for him to stay.

"We have lost a couple of good players. David is important for us. I hope we will fight off any overtures from other clubs.”

Nugent could play as a lone striker this evening, with Nowland just behind him, although a scarcity of midfield players could yet force Davies to play 4-4-2, with Patrick Agyemang coming in for a rare away start.