Paul Lambert’s reunion with Martin O’Neill just a sideshow to Sunderland v Norwich City

Paul Lambert insists his reunion with Sunderland chief Martin O'Neill tonight is a sideshow to the real Premier League business at the Stadium of Light (8pm).

The Norwich City boss happily concedes 'the gaffer' was a major influence on his own playing career at Celtic and a key figure during his transition to the managerial ranks.

Lambert will relish the prospect of facing O'Neill as a direct foe across the technical area for the very first time – but the long-standing friendship is firmly on hold for 90 minutes.

'The gaffer will say himself that it is not about me versus him. It is Sunderland versus Norwich,' said Lambert. 'I have to win for Norwich and him for Sunderland.

'It will be strange because of the relationship I have with him. I'll never call him by his first name – in case I get fined still; I have too much respect for him.

'Those five years were a major part of my career and you learn an awful lot. I had a great time at Celtic under him. When I was in League One I'm pretty sure facing him was the furthest thing from my mind, to compete against him. It's arrived and we'll see what happens. I always saw him as probably being in the Premier League, even when he left Aston Villa. Sunderland have got a brilliant football manager.'

Lambert has used O'Neill as a sounding board during his own rapid rise through the ranks – but the Norwich boss is his own man.

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'I've rung him in the past. He is a lot more experienced in this game than I am and has had a lot more success,' he said. 'I never spoke to him about the Norwich job, but I did when I was going for the Wycombe job because he had been there.

'When I need advice then I am lucky to be able to pick up the phone. I think you take bits from every manager you have worked under. He is one of the best I played under, no doubt about that, and if you asked all the lads at Celtic during that era they would say the same.

'He just simplifies your game. At that time at Celtic I think we finished 21 points behind Rangers the year before he came, which was not good enough for that club, but he came in and they needed someone like him, the crowd, to lead us. Him, Steve Walford and John Robertson came up and transformed the football club and put a bit of credibility back.'

O'Neill's arrival on Wearside has triggered a Premier League revival.

'I was asked the question when he took over about what would happen. There was only one answer, he would take them up the league,' said Lambert. 'It is not a surprise to me what he has done. I worked under him for five years so I know the impact that he has got at football clubs. He is a brilliant manager.

'If I could get a smidge of his success somewhere along the line then I would be doing alright.'