AUDIO: Lambert leads the praise for goal hero Crofts
Paul Lambert led the applause for Andrew Crofts after the midfielder's first-half double at Barnsley gave City away win number seven of the season.
Crofts struck twice in the space of seven minutes, the first a header from Marc Tierney's cross, the second a magnificent strike from the edge of the area.
'They were brilliant,' said the City boss. 'The first goal was a terrific goal with a late run, the second was just a piece of brilliance.
'He's just getting better. His performances have been top class for what we ask him to do and as a lad as well, he's a top class professional.'
The second goal – a turn on the edge of the box and a left-foot shot into the far corner – was the sort usually restricted to strikers with that natural born instinct for something off the cuff.
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'Once they are out there they play with their own eyes,' said Lambert. 'You have got to give them the freedom to go and express themselves and what Crofty does on the other side of the game, the work ethic, is really, really high, but he can also finish. I don't know how many he has got for the season from midfield areas, but his contribution has been huge.'
Lambert had switched his team around a little, Tierney – creator of the first goal – replacing Adam Drury at left-back, Andrew Surman coming in for his first start since the 'demolition derby' last November, and Aaron Wilbraham back on the bench with Wes Hoolahan moved into the second striker role alongside Grant Holt.
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Hoolahan ran the show as City quickly took the game by the scruff of the neck.
'Wes was excellent,' said Lambert. 'If he can find space and do those things that he does with a football then there's not many better players. I'd like to have him in my side rather than play against him, that's for sure. People find it very hard to pick him up and the way he is playing at the minute is extremely high, the way he can manoeuvre the football and the touch he has got gives teams a problem.
'I thought we were excellent. We freshened up a little bit – Marc and Andrew coming in were excellent. The two of them have not played much football. Marc Tierney has had to wait a little bit because of the way Adam has been playing. Adam we have got to watch a little bit due to certain things, but I am delighted with his contribution and I am delighted with Andrew coming back in. I have known Marc from Colchester days and I know exactly what type of player he is.
'Adam is 32 and he had a little bit of a thigh problem the other week at Leeds, so three games in a week is hard. Marc came in and deserved a crack at it as well. I don't view it that anybody is more important than anybody else, we are a team.
'We pushed Wes up, gave Aaron a break – but I thought all over the pitch we were excellent.'
The sight for sore eyes was that of Surman, starting a game for the first time in three months.
'I think you can see the quality he gives you,' said Lambert. 'He gives you the balance and the quality on the ball I think is vital for us. He's been a big loss with the two knee injuries he's had. Hopefully if we can keep him fit through this period we have a hell of a player on our hands.'
While City were in the ascendancy almost throughout, certainly in the first half, Lambert was indebted to his defence for a clean sheet – and to goalkeeper John Ruddy for a magnificent one-handed save which denied Goran Lovre before Crofts had struck for the first time.
'I thought the two centre-halves were excellent,' said Lambert. 'I thought John Ruddy's save in the first half was world class – delighted with the back lads. John Ruddy at the minute looks incredible the way he is playing. Big moments in big games you require big players to produce and that is what he is doing.'
Lambert wouldn't consider any match 'easy', but there was a clear and comfortable margin between the teams on Saturday.
'I don't think you can ever get the complete performance,' he said. 'I think that is a hard thing to do, and when you win it's great and that's what the nature of the game is, to try and win. Any away game you play is always hard to win. There's not many times that a lot of teams go away and pick up a lot of points the way we have done it. But away from home we are a definite threat.
'Every team we play against knows we can score – whether it's going to be good enough to win you a game you are never quite sure, but we are always a goal threat. We always create, we always look as if we are going to score.'
The scoring was done by half-time, although victory could have been more emphatic.
'The confidence was high and they are playing well,' said Lambert. 'It is just a matter of seeing it through. We could have got more, we had a few chances more, their goalkeeper made some good saves, sometimes they go in sometimes they don't. At the end of the day it's another three points.'
It brought a tough week to an end, after a draw at Leeds seven days earlier and a home draw against Doncaster in midweek.
'It has been tough, yes,' Lambert added. 'We came here, which is never easy, it is a tough place to come, but I thought from start to finish we were the best side.
'The away fans were brilliant, the whole game they were excellent. It was disappointing on Tuesday what happened, but we never got beat.'