Norwich City will have strength in numbers says Russell Martin
The number of Norwich City's walking wounded is becoming thin on the ground – and for Russell Martin, that means Paul Lambert's squad will be as strong as it has ever been.
The Canaries welcomed striker James Vaughan back into first team action in Saturday's FA Cup exit to Leicester City, having seen Elliott Ward return to the fray seven days earlier in Swansea.
Centre-back Dani Ayala's original prognosis for the hamstring injury he suffered against Bolton was a month's absence, meaning he could be back in contention after the turn of the month – by which time Zak Whitbread (hamstring) and new signings Ryan Bennett and Jonny Howson could also be figuring in Lambert's match-day squads.
Howson has been recovering from a knee injury sustained at Leeds before his �2m move, while Bennett's month-long loan at Peterborough United ends on Monday – signalling the official start of his Norwich career following a �3m move from London Road at the end of the January transfer window.
'Elliott is back, Zak isn't far away and Dani – and then obviously we have Ryan coming in a couple of weeks, Jonny is training, so it's going to be tough just to get in the squad on a match day,' said Martin.
'That's what you want. I guess as a manager it gives him a headache every week and I guess that is what he wants, because we have got a squad of real depth and quality now.
'I think we have done brilliant up until now and hopefully all the injuries come back and it goes smoothly with them, because we are as strong as we've ever been – and that is a great thing for the run in. Hopefully we will keep picking up points and see where we go.'
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That run-in has been the subject of many a conversation since the fixture list came out in June. With games against Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in City's last six games of the campaign, Norwich fans have been eager for their side to book safety early enough to avoid the need for points against some of the Premier League's big hitters.
Martin admitted there has been similar talk at Colney regarding those final flings come April – but Lambert's men don't do targets, and that theme has continued this term.
'We've never set targets in the two and half years I've been here with the manager,' said Martin, who was yesterday called-up to Craig Levein's Scotland squad for a friendly in Slovenia next week. 'It's the old clich� – we do take it as a game at a time – but it is a tough run-in, that's for sure. As soon as the fixtures came out you looked at it and thought you have got to have a few points on the board before that. But we've given everyone a game this year, pretty much, so whoever we play we'll have a good go.
'It would be nice to pick up a few points before then because the run-in is as tough as they come probably, with the teams that are down there. But every game in this league is tough. If QPR or Wigan have an easier run-in on paper, it doesn't really mean much in this league.
'We'll take every game as it comes and if we play the way we can then we will be all right.'
However, the eighth-placed Canaries do not have it any easier just yet – it is the turn of the Premier League defending champions to make the trip to Carrow Road on Sunday.
Arguably it was United who Norwich were unluckiest against in the first half of the season, coming within a couple of Anthony Pilkington chances of springing a real surprise at Old Trafford in October.
'I think they've improved a lot since then,' acknowledged Martin. 'They've really hit top form now and they are going to be a totally different side to what we played up there earlier in the season.
'We have come a long way since then as well, so it's up to us to try and play our own game. But there is no doubt they're on top form. It's probably the hardest game we've had all season down here.
'No one needs to get us up for it, it's as big as they come. The champions coming down here and we want to give them a game, like we did at Old Trafford.
'I think we were a bit unlucky at their place earlier in the season – that might sound a little crazy but I really think we did.
'We had a couple of good performance up to (the defeat against Leicester) and when you have a good game you have to put it to bed and move on to the next one. And it's the same with the bad games – if you dwell on it too much then it can do your head in and you go stir crazy.
'But we will need to be a lot better than we were on Saturday to get anywhere near them.'