Smith injury forces Norwich City to reshuffle
Paul Lambert has been handed a double selection dilemma after seeing his injury list grow again after the weekend's efforts against Burnley.
The City boss confirmed yesterday that left-back Steven Smith – who was substituted just eight minutes into the second half – will miss tonight's trip to Millwall because of a hip problem.
Lambert is already without influential midfielder Andrew Crofts, who serves a one-game suspension after his dismissal for two bookable offences at the weekend, and still has four accumulated yellows hanging over his head.
When Smith departed on Saturday, right-back Russell Martin was switched to the left, with Korey Smith dropping back from midfield – but Crofts' absence perhaps rules that out.
Lambert admits there are 'needs must' situations, but says Adam Drury is not yet ready to return after a calf problem, leaving Simon Lappin the most obvious replacement – creating a second midfield vacancy.
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David Fox replaced Smith on Saturday and slotted seamlessly into the master-plan, so looks a good bet to start, while Anthony McNamee, a half-time change for Lappin, helped changed the game out on the right flank. Matt Gill – back after a recent loan spell at Peterborough – also comes in to the reckoning.
Smith joins centre-backs Michael Nelson and Zak Whitbread, Drury and midfielders Andrew Surman and Stephen Hughes on the injured list, although they are all at varying stages of recovery.
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'It's a chance for somebody else to come in and do alright,' said Lambert. 'You can't make excuses, that's the game.
'I think you can go through any league you want and that will always be the same. Good players, when you lose them it is a chance for somebody else to come in.
'Crofty's been colossal for us, Fox was excellent when he came on. He's a top, really talented footballer – and he has a bad habit of finding his own team-mate with a pass.'
Fox has perhaps been something of a victim of City's success: bought in the summer, he was in centre midfield for the season opener, when City were beaten at home by Watford, but then Lambert switched it around, moving Crofts to the holding role and reinstating Korey Smith on the right. Fox was on the bench, and his only other league start came against Middlesbrough, when Korey Smith and Wes Hoolahan were rested.
'It's tough, but that is the nature of the game,' said Lambert. 'Whatever league you want to be in, whatever team you want to get in, if you've got a team that's winning, trying to get in is hard.'
Fox isn't the only 'victim' – Chris Martin has been sidelined for seven games, but made a case for a recall by scoring on Saturday, and then going close to snatching a last-gasp winner.
'Chrissy came on on Saturday and his goal was brilliant,' said Lambert. 'He's not one to let his head go down because he's not played.'
Lambert's selection cards were in their traditional place yesterday – close to his chest.
'Everybody gives me problem,' he said. 'I just have to try and pick a team that I think will win the game. I never really pick anything through favouritism, just a team that I think will win games.'
One of the factors City face tonight is the atmosphere generated inside The Den by the Millwall crowd, as well as a half-decent team – although meeting them twice in League One last season means City are prepared.
'They have had one or two changes,' Lambert said. 'It was a great achievement to come up. Everybody knows how hard a place it is to go to because of the atmosphere. We know.'
City travel south with the sound of their own fans still ringing in their ears after Carrow Road burst at the seams for the climax of the weekend's comeback draw – a performance which left Lambert praising his players' resilience in the face of adversity.
'We have a great hunger and desire,' he said. 'It was really easy for the lads to go out on Saturday and wait for things to happen, but they made it happen, they did it themselves.'
Perhaps the major concern was that City have now gone two goals down in their last two games – against Cardiff and Burnley.
'Against two top sides,' said Lambert. 'Two sides I think will be thereabouts because of the size of their squads.
'The good thing is we have never once looked out of place against either of them. We gave as good as we got and on Saturday we got the reward for it.
'You can analyse it until you are blue in the face, you can look for any answer you want – it was a massive, massive second-half performance to turn that around against a team I think will be really strong.
'It takes big players to do that, because you have to handle the crowd – 25,000 roaring you on. The slightest little mistake and people grumble, then you do something great and the crowd get behind them, so there are loads of factors that can happen. It was the way they did it and the way they got the crowd to respond.'
• City have agreed to allow young defender George Francomb to stay out on loan at League Two side Barnet for a further month.
The 19-year-old's initial one-month loan deal ended on Saturday. Francomb has played in Barnet's last six games.