Norwich City defender Zak Whitbread making up for lost time
Defender Zak Whitbread is making up for lost time as Norwich City bid to extend their unbeaten start to 2012.
The centre-back was sidelined for more than three months of the Canaries' season after suffering a hamstring injury at Chelsea in August.
But since returning to the starting line-up, the 27-year-old has been on the losing side just once in 10 matches, and will be looking to extend that impressive run against Sunderland in tonight's televised Premier League game at the Stadium of Light (8pm).
Whitbread, who endured a similarly long absence in the Championship last season before becoming a fixture in the side in the second half of the campaign, has grabbed his chance in no uncertain fashion in recent weeks.
'It's massive – you can't really explain it,' he said. 'It's just great to get into that momentum of games and to be playing, churning them out. It's what it's all about, it's brilliant.
'I think for most players, you'd rather play as much as you can. Some players are being rested. They've had the first half of the season, which I haven't had, so I just want to play every game. I think if you ask any player they'd rather play games than train.
'It's what you're here for, it's what you enjoy. I don't think you're the same person when you're not playing. It's hard to really enjoy yourself. I've really enjoyed being back and I hope I can just stay fit the rest of the season.'
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Since the New Year's Eve visit of Fulham, Whitbread has been paired with another former Liverpool centre-back in Daniel Ayala, and in six matches City have not been beaten with their US-Spanish alliance at the heart of the defence.
'Dani's done really well since he's come back and as a whole team, as a unit, we've tried to work on being solid and building from there,' said Whitbread.
'Touch wood, it's gone well, but it's a long way to go. It's only been a few games, so we just need to try to keep that up.
'It's been a good start to the year. There were some tough games – there is never an easy game – but it's something to look back and build on and use that same momentum into this month.'
Whitbread accepts that the arrival of Martin O'Neill as Sunderland boss is likely to make them a different proposition to the team beaten 2-1 at Carrow Road in September.
'You can tell by the results they've had. He's really got the players going and turned it round,' said Whitbread.
'He's done that many a time. He's a top manager. It will be a different animal to the start of the season.
'I've seen them a couple of times since O'Neill has taken over. They're a decent side and he's got them really working for him and they've got top some top players up there who just needed the best bringing out of them. It will be tough, a tough place to go up there, I imagine, but we're looking forward to it.'