Norwich City boss Lambert relieved as gamble pays off
AUDIO: Paul Lambert admitted he was forced to take a gamble with players' fitness at the weekend as City's injury problems bit hard – and deep.
Lambert had eight players who would, in normal circumstances, have been watching from the stands, but it was a case of 'needs must' –which was why one of them started and another was on the bench.
Andrew Surman's recall after nine weeks out and just 45 minutes of a behind-closed-doors friendly under his belt, was a bigger surprise than Michael Nelson's among the subs –especially after Lambert had told the media on Friday that Surman wasn't ready.
'I lied,' he said, with a smile that perhaps reflected his satisfaction with the left-midfielder's hour or so on the pitch more than anything else. However, both had something of the gamble about them, particularly over Surman, who was coming into a midfield which had lost Korey Smith and Matt Gill in the previous week.
'It was a huge call,' said Lambert. 'He has been out for three months or so. He has only played 45 minutes in a reserve game, but I spoke to him the other day and asked him how he felt and he felt good and that hour would have done him the world of good - but I thought when he was on the pitch he was class.'
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Surman's on-field rehab won't be followed by cotton-wool protection this week.
'I don't have to wrap him up now,' said Lambert. 'I just took him off because I have got to protect him as well. I thought when I took him off he was right on top of his game, but I was doing it to protect him for the games that are coming up. I thought some of his passing and movement of the football was really brilliant and it is a big plus for us for him to come back.'
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Lambert's gamble paid off – but there was always the possibility of an adverse physical reaction from the player.
'I'm not making up the numbers, but I don't have 100pc lads fit at the minute,' he said. 'It's needs must. I take full responsibility if anything happens to the lads, but I am asking them to do me a major thing.
'But Michael felt good after the game the other day, Andrew felt good. Adam (Drury) is still not ready, the two Smiths (Korey and Steven) are not ready, (Zak) Whitbread is not ready, (Stephen) Hughes is not ready. Matt Gill is another one who is out.'
That lengthy list means Lambert is almost certain to have a loan midfielder on his books for Sunday's derby against Ipswich.
'I have spoken to somebody and hopefully that will come off,' he said. 'Hopefully it will happen early part of the week.'
The other possible acquisition Lambert has to consider is that of goal-scorer Leon Barnett, who has become a valuable part of the furniture since his arrival from West Brom in August, after Nelson was injured.
Lambert has spoken to Albion, but City's finances and West Brom's approval, have to be overcome.
The City boss, though, made it clear where he stands.
'You are in a Catch 22 – you either don't try it and he goes back and you accept mediocrity, which I don't want to accept. He is West Brom's player so they call the shots, but we will try.'
Barnett's goal-earned City the point after Max Gradel's first-half opener.
'I thought he was excellent,' said Lambert. 'I think Leon Barnett has been huge for us and his goal was terrific and well deserved.'
Leeds had the better of the first half, but Lambert switched it around tactically at half-time to stifle Leeds' midfield and then made a double substitution just after the hour mark, replacing Surman and Anthony McNamee with Wes Hoolahan and Simeon Jackson respectively, and City swarmed all over the visitors.
'I think in the modern-day game a lot of teams are flooding the midfield,' he said. 'We did it last year and we've done it this year and we decided to do it and I thought they adjusted really, really well. But I have got really good players.
'It's not me, the game is all about players and fans. The players turned that around. We have great belief in them that they are always going to score but you'd be more worried if you weren't creating chances and you weren't getting anything. But it was chance after chance and the excitement it was generating in the stadium with the crowd getting right behind us was brilliant.
'It must an exciting place to watch football, Carrow Road, it must be.
'Wes and Simeon definitely gave the crowd a lift. Wes, I thought, was excellent when he came on, as was Simeon, but you make decisions you think are right for the team and right for the club.
'I thought it was a brilliant game.
'I thought the second half we were brilliant. Their goalkeeper has made some good saves and we peppered them with everything we could and as I said it takes big players to come back when you are 1-0 down.
'I am sure Simon (Grayson) will have his own views of it, but I think it was a very good advert for two teams that came up and went for each other.
'I can't ask for any more considering the injuries I have got. They are performing really well.'
It's the performance which offset the disappointment of not winning - and leaving City on a run of four consecutive draws which could so easily have been a much more impressive run of current form. For Lambert, it isn't a concern.
'It might be if we weren't playing well,' he said. 'It's not, because I know how well we are playing, that's the difference.'