Lambert forced to ring the changes

Paul Lambert could be forced into a double defensive shuffle tomorrow night as injury and the first suspension of the season proved to be the price of a deserved draw at Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers.

Centre-half Elliott Ward is definitely out of the home game against Crystal Palace, having picked up his fifth yellow card of the campaign for a foul on Adel Taarabt, while Adam Drury – who missed the previous game because of a hamstring problem – limped off just before the hour mark with a calf injury.

Jens Berthel Askou appears to be the obvious replacement for Ward, while Steven Smith will continue at left-back.

Ward and Leon Barnett helped prevent the division's highest scoring team from scoring for only the second time this season.

'It's a blow because he (Ward) has been brilliant for us,' said manager Paul Lambert. 'Him and Barnett have been absolutely colossal.'


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If there was another disappointment it was that City didn't become the first side to leave Loftus Road with a goal and all three points, with Wes Hoolahan missing a first-half penalty and Grant Holt denied by a tremendous save by Paddy Kenny.

Hoolahan had scored from the spot in City's previous two games, but missed the target on Saturday – but Lambert says it's the midfielder's choice whether or not he takes the next one.

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'If he wants to hit it, absolutely,' he said. 'If he is confident enough to hit it. I don't have a problem with him not hitting it. I spoke to him but there are times when that kid's been unplayable and his performances for me have been top class – and he scored two previous ones. It happens in a game and he will bounce back.'

A sign of City's maturity was that the miss didn't deflate confidence.

'I think especially for Wes it never preyed on his mind,' said Lambert. 'The lads were disciplined and threw their bodies into things that we had to do, but it was a terrific performance by them. I thought we were excellent, I really did. We were unlucky not to win it.

'We came here to win, we never sat and waited for QPR to come on to us. They are a really good side, you can see why they are up there. The crowd is right behind them – but I thought our crowd again were terrific for us. It was a really good atmosphere in the game. We came here to win, we never sat back and we certainly didn't deserve to lose the game.'

While the defence may take the bulk of the plaudits, there were noticeable performances elsewhere, not least in midfield where Andrew Crofts simply added to his growing reputation.

'Brilliant,' was the Lambert verdict. 'He's starting to be a complete midfielder that lad. He did brilliant for Wales last week and his performances since he arrived at the football club have been terrific for me.'

Further up Holt might have got on the scoresheet with his first-half effort, but he kept Rangers' back four honest.

'It just got caught under his feet that one,' Lambert said. 'He did great to get himself into position and the keeper's made a really good save.

'He's an absolute handful when he plays like that, but Grant Holt has been like that since I've been at the club. He was huge for me last year and again today he's your typical old-fashioned number nine. That is not a derogatory statement, he's just a brilliant centre forward.'

It was always clear that the trip to west London would provide City with their toughest test of the season to date, but coming through it with a well-deserved point again raises the subject of expectations and aspirations.

For those watching City for the first time, it's perhaps a reasonable line of inquiry; for Lambert it's a question he quickly deflects.

'I don't have any (expectations),' he said. 'I never know what's going to happen tomorrow let alone what's going to happen much down the line, so I don't know. I take one game at a time, I always have done, I never look to the future. I'm not being disrespectful, but I never read anything so I don't know what goes on. The fans are brilliant, the Norwich crowd, they come in their thousands home and away, it's miles away from anywhere and they go in their thousands to games and what you have to live with is what this club did years ago when it was playing in Europe.

'Times move on. I know what people think, I'm not silly not to realise what people think, but I take one game at a time and I will try and win as many games as I can.

'I think it's a brilliant league, I think the teams you go and play against are big, big clubs you are going up against every single game. I concentrate on my own team because that's my team and if we can do well against other teams then great, but my main concern is Norwich. I have got a great belief in them that they are going to give me everything they have got, allied to their ability.

'I think they have got the belief in themselves. They have a terrific belief, they have a great desire not to get beaten, and you can't underestimate people having a hunger for the game. I think if you have a hungry player and the desire you have got a chance, and I have got that in abundance with them.'

The point means City remain in third, seven points behind QPR and three behind Cardiff.

Will City be similarly placed next May?

'If I could predict that I'm going to do the lottery – I don't know,' said Lambert.

So far, the numbers are stacking up.

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