Norwich City boss Lambert heaps praise on ‘top class’ Crofts
AUDIO: Paul Lambert led the plaudits for Andrew Crofts after the midfielder's two goals helped the Canaries become the best away team of the Championship this season.
City's victory at Bramall Lane was their sixth on the road and took their travelling tally to 23 points from 13 games.
Crofts' first brace for almost three years took his season's tally to half a dozen – closing in on his season's best league haul of eight, for Gillingham in 2006-07.
The Wales international was Lambert's first post-promotion signing last summer – and another of those players who is revelling in City's surge up the footballing ladder.
'He's created a niche for himself,' said Lambert. 'I think he is one of the best midfielders in the league.
'His all-round game is top class. In my view – and it could be biased and every manager will have their own perception of every individual – he is becoming a really, really top footballer.
'When you get somebody in they have got to go and do it themselves and he's done it himself – he deserves all the credit that is coming his way.
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'He came up from League One – most of the lads are untried at this level, but my god they are taking to it. They have a great desire, a great hunger, which if you give me a footballer with hunger and desire and a bit of ability you have got a player on your hands.
'You look at the lads I have taken – they have a great hunger, and they deserve every bit of credit.'
Crofts was on right of a midfield three, the opposite side to Wes Hoolahan, who, said Lambert, had been a major doubt for the trip north.
'Wes, unbeknown to people, had a virus during the week so it was a big call to play him, but we played him and I thought he did great for us when he was on,' Lambert said.
However, the City boss admitted there was something of a 'game of two halves' about his team's performance. Whether he gave them a half-time rocket or whether he simply pointed out the consequences of a repeat of the first half is unclear, but City certainly bucked up after the break when they were perhaps fortunate to go in level.
'What goes on in the dressing room always stay there,' he said.
But that scoreline, and the prospect of playing towards the travelling supporters, helped effect a change.
'I thought the lads again, especially second half, were excellent,' Lambert said.
'They have a new manager, the crowd are as vibrant as the day is long here, they have got a new player in Marcus Bent who gave them a lift, so everything was stacked against us, but when you get them in at nothing each at half-time, when you have not really got going if the truth be known, I knew shooting down to our end we would perform, and in the second half I thought we were excellent.
'It's a really tough place to come at the best of times so I'm delighted with the win.'
Crofts put City ahead soon after the hour mark and although ex-Canaries loan player Ched Evans replied, the winner came 10 minutes from time –from the same player, from the same move and with the same controversy attached to it, certainly from a Blades point of view.
On both occasions they cried foul, and Lambert admitted to a degree of sympathy with opposite number Micky Adams.
'I can understand if Micky has a grievance,' he said. 'I would probably be the same if my goalkeeper has been blocked or whatever, but there is so much movement in the penalty box that it is hard to pick up at times – but Micky will turn it around because he has the crowd on his side.'
That crowd burst into life when Evans – who had missed a number of chances in the first half, got the better of Leon Barnett to equalise.
'Leon Barnett I think was colossal the whole game, him and Zak (Whitbread), and there was one lapse in concentration when he gets rolled,' said Lambert. 'He will know himself, but he will learn. He is only young. To get rolled in the penalty box is probably a cardinal sin if you are a defender, but his whole game I thought he was brilliant.'
Victory leaves City third in the Championship, the sandwich in a trio of teams locked on 47 points – much of that due to the fine away record,
'They tell me a few years ago Norwich couldn't buy a goal (away from home), let alone go and create one,' said Lambert. 'It's incredible what we have done – come from the bottom of League One to where they are now.'