Norwich City boss Lambert impressed with what Whitbread has to offer
Paul Lambert reserved his highest praise for a brilliant performance by centre-half Zak Whitbread after a day when his emotions must have been taken on a similar journey to the roller-coaster thrill seekers at the fairground next to Elland Road.
A 2-2 draw in the Yorkshire home of one of your closest rivals isn't to be sniffed at and provided some consolation at the end of a difficult week for the City manager.
It started with the long-term loss of central defender Leon Barnett, was increased by Chris Martin suffering a hamstring injury in training which will keep him out 'for weeks'. Then, on the eve of the game, it was compounded by Simon Lappin's emergency dash to a Leeds hospital with an appendix problem.
That Whitbread came in for Barnett and produced one of the best individual performances by anyone in a City shirt this season will ease the problems facing Lambert, although he is almost certain to reveal some time today the identity of an emergency loan signing. In this instance, it really is something of an emergency.
'I am trying to get somebody in and hopefully that will transpire,' said Lambert.
Martin's absence could mean the new man is joined by a loan striker at some stage, while the extent of Lappin's problems aren't yet clear.
'He was rushed to hospital last night with appendicitis,' Lambert explained. 'We don't know how he is at the minute and we have to find out what's wrong. He had problems with his stomach the other day in training and we never really knew what it was. He was not too bad travelling in and last night it really flared up. I think with your appendix, as everybody knows, if they burst then you're in trouble.'
- 1 People are driving for hours to visit this loaded fries and doughnut kiosk
- 2 Holiday Inn to become 'care hotel' to help struggling hospitals
- 3 One of East Anglia's largest property builders is sold to investment firm
- 4 Meet the new team behind revamped village pub
- 5 Woman in 40s airlifted to hospital after suffering medical emergency
- 6 War-time bomb lay dormant for 80 years before exploding under fishing boat
- 7 'We will all miss him': Poignant tributes paid to 'brilliant' solicitor
- 8 Obituary: Doctor, and son of Norwich's recycling empire founder, dies aged 69
- 9 £1,000 reward offered to anyone who can help bring home missing dog
- 10 Arrive by boat at new Norfolk wedding venue
Whitbread was making just the sixth league start of an injury-hit 13 months at Carrow Road, but he produced when it mattered against a Leeds side who would have won the game but for some of his work – a late headed clearance from under the nose of Leeds sub Davide Somma was out of the very top drawer.
'He was outstanding,' said Lambert. 'That's as good a centre-half performance as I have seen in a long, long time. I'm delighted for him because I am quite sure people have been questioning why we brought him and he's not fit. The way he has performed in the big games for me, it's there for everybody to see he is a top class centre half.
'He put his body on the line – a terrific header at the back post where it was a certain goal, but I am delighted for Zak because of the injury problems he has had. I think he is a top player and obviously you have to stand by your own judgment that the lad can come in and do a job.
'It's been frustrating for him, for me and the club, but I am delighted to see him perform like that.'
It may all have been in vain had it not been for goalkeeper John Ruddy, who stayed calm when he saw the whites of Billy Paynter's eyes at the very end and beat away the striker's shot for a corner.
'A brilliant save,' said Lambert. 'A big moment – big players produce in big moments and he did it. That was monumental. I think John Ruddy, for the last few months now, has been on top of his game and I think his performances are showing that.'
Ruddy's heroics came at the end of a pulsating 90 minutes when City equalised – having been under the cosh for 45 minutes – went ahead, and were then pegged back by a stunning goal by Somma.
'I thought it was first class,' said Lambert. 'The game itself and the atmosphere that was generated by both sets of supporters was excellent.
'I think a point was fair. We could have nicked it and Leeds could have nicked it at the death.
'This is a hard, hard place to come, there's no doubt, with the crowd that they've got behind their back, but I thought we gave as good as we got.
'Two very good sides and an absolutely terrific game for the Championship I think – and the crowd were brilliant. It was one of those games where it doesn't matter if you are a Leeds or a Norwich fan, I think they really enjoyed it.'
Luciano Becchio had put Leeds ahead early on, bundling in a cross from the left, but Henri Lansbury scored his third in four games on the stroke of half-time.
'I'm never worried because I always think the lads will get themselves back in the game and that's what happened,' Lambert said. 'We had a couple of chances: Grant (Holt) hit the post and Foxy's (David Fox) had some terrific shots from the edge of the box, so you are never out of the game at 1-0.'
City fought back well after the break and Wes Hoolahan put them ahead on 69 minutes with a delicate flick of his magical left boot.
'His goal was brilliant – the way he took it. When Wes plays like that he is unplayable at times,' added Lambert, who then saw Somma volley Leeds level.
'A terrific strike,' he said. 'It had to be to beat John from there.'
The result was as tight as the upper reaches of the Championship, with City in fifth, but just a point off second-placed Nottingham Forest.
'I don't really bother about the table at this minute because I know how many games are still to go, but what we've done has made it exciting for everybody connected with ourselves,' said Lambert.
'We are in the mix, along with Leeds and a few others.'