Norwich City ‘running on empty’ but still on the up
Paul Lambert claimed that footballers were being asked to perform over and above the call of duty during the festive season after watching a Norwich City side 'running on empty' battle their way to a point at Middlesbrough yesterday.
The Canaries moved into second place in the Championship after their third match in the space of six days – during which time they picked up seven points from a possible nine.
But City have been rocked by an ever-growing injury list, which now includes midfield maestro Wes Hoolahan, who missed yesterday's game because of a groin injury – leaving Lambert down to the bare bones.
Chris Martin and Zak Whitbread were both left on the bench yesterday, while City's travelling fans witnessed the rare sight of skipper and leading scorer Grant Holt being replaced – just to keep him fresh and out of harm's way.
The weekend win over leaders QPR clearly took its toll, and Lambert was unequivocal about whether teams should be asked to play twice inside three days.
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'No,' he said. 'That is just a personal view. I think it is too much, I really do – two games, and the magnitude of them as well.
'Every game is huge, but the game on Saturday, the magnitude of that game, the adrenaline and everything, it was a big, big ask to go again, especially when you get the injuries that we have got at the minute.
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'I think it is tough to play any team in the league, but even more so when you have to play two games in three days. It's a really hard thing to do, but you have to give both sets of teams credit for putting on a decent game. I thought Middlesbrough looked tired. I thought it was two tired teams.'
Holt – who had given City a 12th-minute lead before Boro equalised through Leon Barnett's own goal nine minutes later – was replaced by Simeon Jackson just after the hour mark to give his legs a rest.
'I did it with Chrissy (Martin), Grant as well, because it is a big, big ask to turn those lads around,' said Lambert. 'I couldn't play Zak because we had to protect him. I think Adam (Drury) is a dead man walking after two games in three days and having not played in three months, but the contribution that each individual made has been huge.
'They're running on empty, but there was a great desire not to be beaten.'
Owain Tudur Jones made his first Norwich start for more than a year – and the first in the league under Lambert – but was replaced by Martin for the second half as Lambert went searching for the win.
'Owain did fine, but it is a big ask even for him to come in,' Lambert said. 'But that is us, right down to the bare bones and we don't have any more to play.'
There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, with midfielder David Fox, who has missed two games with a calf problem, a possible for Saturday's FA Cup third round tie at home to Leyton Orient, but Lambert admitted the selection for that game will be a case of 'who we have got left'.
While the list of walking wounded – which currently stands at seven senior players – is a concern, City's move into second place, on goal difference from Swansea but with a game in hand, means the busy period has brought rewards.
'It's been excellent,' said Lambert. 'It is monumental what the lads have done; they have been a credit to the football club.'
City were indebted to goalkeeper John Ruddy for a magnificent save to deny Barry Robson in the latter stages.
'John is playing exceptionally well at the minute and I am delighted with his contribution,' Lambert said. 'You expect that. We are the away team and they will be buoyed by the crowd willing them on. It was never easy – they would have been favourites to beat us because of the club they are. Middlesbrough are a really, really good side. It's a terrific place to play football, but to come again and not get beat it's been exceptional.'
Tony Mowbray insisted his struggling Middlesbrough side were far from happy with just a point.
'We are disappointed,' he said, whose side also drew 1-1 at high-flying Leeds on Saturday.
'Some people are saying that is two good points against top of the table sides but we feel it could and should have been six points from those two games.
'The way we have played and the fact that we have come away from those games believing we should have won both shows we are more than capable of competing with the top teams in this league. It is indicative of where we are as a team right now. I hope people can see the steady improvement in performances since I came here.'