Defensive duo draw high praise from Lambert

Paul Lambert praised his back four after they reduced Middlesbrough's strikers to embarrassing anonymity at Carrow Road.

Kris Boyd and one-time City loan player Leroy Lita hardly got a touch as a defence buoyed by the return of Elliott Ward after a one-match suspension held firm on a day when genuine goal-scoring chances were hard to come by.

Lambert made changes – to the formation as well as personnel – but the return of Ward into his partnership with Leon Barnett was clearly crucial.

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'He was a massive loss to us the other night and I thought him and Leon have been brilliant for us,' said the City boss.

'I thought Russell Martin had his best game this season, and his performances this season have been really high. I am delighted with the back four because when you lose (Adam) Drury it is a big void to fill, but Steven (Smith) has come in and done fine.

'I think we defended strongly when we had to. It was a big performance to dig deep after the disappointment of the other night and I am delighted with the lads to keep winning.'

The other night he refers to was the home defeat by Crystal Palace, the manner of which prompted him to rest a couple of sets of weary legs and change the formation. In came Anthony McNamee and David Fox – starting his first league game since the season opener against Watford – and rested were Wes Hoolahan and Korey Smith. Rested also was the diamond formation, with Lambert opting for a traditional 4-4-2, Fox and Andrew Crofts in the middle, Simon Lappin left and McNamee right.

'We freshened it up because the same group of lads have been going week in, week out for us,' said Lambert. 'We freshened it up a little bit and that's the only reason I did it, to give lads who we thought could go and win a game, to give Wes a break and give Korey a break because they have played nearly every single game for me over the best part of 14, 15 months. And we need everybody, we need the squad to play.

'We don't have an overly big squad because a lot of young kids are out on loan who are not ready, nowhere near ready for that level of football at the minute, and Owain (Tudur Jones) and Gilly (Matt Gill) are out; experienced lads, but they needed games.

'I have just got to keep my head above the water, I have got to keep this club above the water.'

Using the diamond formation has enabled Lambert has managed to do both, but City are clearly adept at changing.

'I think the modern game dictates that you have got to adapt to different systems and the lads know how to play a 4-4-2, they know how to play a diamond,' he said. 'Any system I have really asked them to do they have performed. Macca (McNamee) playing gives you that width – he puts in a terrific ball for us and his ball for the goal was exceptional.

'Lucky enough it worked.'

It was McNamee's whipped cross just before half-time that found a sliding Grant Holt who, with Boro players calling for an offside flag, squared the ball right for Simeon Jackson to knock it into an empty net from six yards – his third goal in the last four games.

Holt's position was debatable, the quality of the ball wasn't.

'I would have to see it again,' said Lambert. 'A terrific ball in and Grant does great to pull it back and it doesn't matter, they are the greatest goal for a striker, the ones that are a yard out, because you still have to be there in the right place at the right time and it's another goal for him.'

It ensured City's record under Lambert of never having lost consecutive matches in a season remains intact.

'As I said the other day, when you get beaten you have got to do your best to try and win the next one and the lads have responded terrifically well again,' he said. 'Another three points, which is another three points from trying to keep safe.

'It speaks volumes for the players. They are the ones that go and play it and what they have done for me I can't thank them high enough for what they have done and the way they have played games.'

For all their passing, Boro lacked a cutting edge – but Lambert believes whoever comes in to replace Gordon Strachan will have plenty to work with.

'I think their position is false, I really do,' he said. 'Their manager going and the way things have been going you look at the resources they have got.

'Whoever gets that I am pretty sure they will have a good club behind them and they will have a lot of resources and whoever gets the job I am sure will drag them up. They are a good side, a very good side.'