Millwall defender Whitbread could fit Norwich bill

Paddy DavittNorwich City were yesterday linked with a move for Millwall's wantaway central defender Zak Whitbread. The 25-year-old former Liverpool trainee is now free to talk to any interested clubs, with his current deal at The New Den set to expire in the summer.Paddy Davitt

Norwich City were yesterday linked with a move for Millwall's wantaway central defender Zak Whitbread.

The 25-year-old former Liverpool trainee is now free to talk to any interested clubs, with his current deal at The New Den set to expire in the summer.

Canaries' chief Paul Lambert has prioritised defensive reinforcements to a key area of his promotion-chasing squad, with Danish stalwart Jens Berthel Askou ruled out for at least another five weeks with a broken foot.

Michael Nelson and Gary Doherty are currently Lambert's only other senior recognised centre halves on the books although versatile Republic of Ireland U21 international Michael Spillane is poised to step up his return from a hamstring problem.

Whitbread saw a potential move to Championship strugglers Peterborough collapse during the close season, with ex-London Road chief Darren Ferguson citing the player's wage demands as a major stumbling block after the clubs had agreed a transfer fee.

The powerful 6ft 2in defender has been sidelined long term with a hip injury but returned to training last month.

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The Lions could now be ready to accept a cut price offer for Whitbread, who is a free agent in the summer while the American needs regular first team action to stand any chance of making a late bit to gatecrash his country's World Cup squad.

Millwall have also confirmed they are tracking Southend's highly-rated striker Lee Barnard. Norwich were recently linked with the 25-year-old who, like Whitbread, is in the final year of his current Roots Hall deal.

Lions boss Kenny Jackett - a confirmed admirer of the former Tottenham youngster - wants for fresh firepower to strengthen Millwall's bid for a play-off place.

"There are a few different targets and the manager has a few different areas he is looking to strengthen if an opportunity comes up," said Millwall chief executive Andy Ambler. "We are looking at a few different people, but things are still very loose at the moment. Lee Barnard is one of many we've talked about but I haven't discussed terms with Southend yet."

Southend United chairman Ron Martin has not given up hope of convincing his prolific 17-goal striker to sign a new contract.

Championship outfit Coventry made an inquiry last summer for Barnard who has also been touted with a move to Norwich's East Anglian rivals Colchester.

"We would prefer Lee to stay and hope he feels similarly," said Shrimpers' chairman Martin. "Lee fits in and is well liked at Southend. I'm prepared to give him a much improved contract to encourage him to remain part of our longer-term plan. We have been talking for a few months now and we can only hope that Lee's agent is on side."

Meanwhile, Colchester boss Aidy Boothroyd has confirmed Ipswich loanee Kevin Lisbie has returned to United and could face the Canaries in the clubs' League One grudge match next week.

Lisbie was expected to be recalled by parent club Ipswich Town after a successful extended loan move but is now back with United and in the squad for this weekend's scheduled league game against Yeovil.

"I was delighted to get the call from Ipswich to say Kevin could continue with us," Boothroyd told Colchester's official site.

"The situation is ongoing but he is with us now until the end of the season - unless Ipswich tell us otherwise. That's the matter closed as far as I am concerned - until it is opened again."