Whitbread rises to challenge

Norwich City defender Zak Whitbread is ready to fill the void left by Leon Barnett's untimely hamstring injury following his stand out display against Leeds.

Whitbread produced a series of vital interceptions in another trademark rearguard action from Paul Lambert's men to preserve a hard fought point at Elland Road.

Lambert hailed the American's performance as one the best he had seen by a centre-half as Norwich withstood a full blooded onslaught in Yorkshire.

Whitbread is now desperate for a prolonged injury-free run in the side to help cushion the potential blow of losing the impressive Barnett for the rest of the campaign. Lambert has not ruled out fresh reinforcements in the emergency loan market, but Whitbread is confident he can forge another key partnership alongside Elliott Ward.

'He is a top class defender and we had no qualms about playing together,' he said. 'We speak a lot about the game and sit next to each other on the bus so there are always conversations about how to defend. He is a great talker and a great player. It also helps having someone like John (Ruddy) behind you. That save he made at the end was unbelievable. I was right behind that save and he has been immense for I don't know how long.

'Some of the saves he has made have kept us in games, and none bigger than that one there to fingertip it around the post. As a defender you just don't even have to worry because you know what is behind you. He takes care of a lot of problems so as a defender you can just get on with your game.'

Whitbread more than played his part in an away performance full of resolve and character. The former Liverpool trainee picked out a brave blind back post second half header to deny Robert Snodgrass as his personal match highlight.

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'I didn't know if I was going to walk off with my head intact – whether it was the post or the man behind me I was going to clatter, but that is what my game is all about. Defending,' he said. 'We'd liked to have got the three points but I'm just delighted to have played my part in it. All the lads worked exceptionally hard and worked our socks off.

'It brought back memories of the play-off semi-final I played there (with Millwall) which was probably my last run of real games. You can't describe how nice it is to be back playing. There is nothing worse than being sat in the stands. The pitch was heavy and there was snow around but we had to deal with it. It took me back to under nine's or ten's football, when your Mum has to take your kit off you before you go back in the house because it is so muddy.'

Whitbread believes a point at Elland Road should not be undervalued come the final reckoning in May – despite weekend league wins for rivals Nottingham Forest and Swansea.

'The lads have worked hard there because it is always a tough place to come but a point here is a good point,' he said. 'We pick ourselves up, recover well and go again Tuesday.

'You can't expect to have 100pc of the play. They are always going to have ten, 15 minutes spells when you have to defend and be resilient.

'It was one way traffic at times, but we have taken our two goals brilliantly.

'Anyone who comes to Leeds, and I would include Premier League teams in that, would be happy with a point here. I've played here plenty of times before and it's tough.

'Come the end you never know what that means. I think there is a special vibe about the club and the team. There is a great buzz. We just have to keep working because we have put ourselves in a great position.'

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