Zak Whitbread aims to take Norwich City chance
Zak Whitbread admits he is playing catch-up to his Norwich City team-mates – but has no intention of letting his big Premier League chance slip by.
The former Liverpool centre-back returned from a three-month absence to make only his third top-flight start, and enjoyed a first win with victory over Newcastle United last weekend in the process.
Whitbread impressed, despite being at fault for Demba Ba's second goal, having finally recovered from a hamstring injury sustained at Chelsea on the third weekend of the season.
Now his aim is to make up for lost time – a period in which Paul Lambert's Canaries squad has grown in both Premier League experience and guile.
'It's been a while and it was great to play some part in the Newcastle game, and to get a result as well was even better,' said the 27-year-old.
'I slept well! I think the gaffer could see I was treading water a bit so I came off after 83 minutes. I was in bed by about 8pm on the Saturday night, which was unusual. But I enjoyed being back.
'I'm never going to be able to go straight in and be on top of my game, it always takes a bit of time to find your feet and the lads have played a few months already at the top level of world football. So to expect myself to go straight back in there and play as well as I think I can, that's tough.
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'But I'm working hard, I felt ready. There was no issue with me playing last week. I felt up to it, tired a bit towards the end but that's to be expected. I feel great and the more games, the better for me.
'I've been given a great opportunity and I've just got to keep working hard to stay in there, because there are some great lads not in the side and it says a lot about our squad.
'Hopefully the clean sheets will come and we keep getting the wins and performances. I've just got to stay on my toes and work as hard as I can.'
The focus is contagious. After a week when the Christmas fancy dress party of Premier League leaders Manchester City attracted widespread publicity, City will be keeping their festivities to a minimum – which is fine with Whitbread.
'No, my Christmas party was Real Madrid versus Barcelona in bed with a cup of tea – that's as mad as it got,' joked the former Millwall man. 'We're just keeping our heads down. Not may people get given the opportunity to play in the Premier League so we're going to take it with both hands.
'There are a lot of times when you're injured but I'm lucky enough to be given a second crack at the Premier League and it's one of those things where you don't want to look back and regret anything about not giving it your best shot. The lads are all focused on it and there wasn't too much of an uproar over (not having a Christmas party).'
City face Everton on Saturday afternoon, having flown to Merseyside on Friday – a return to Whitbread's home city, if only the blue side. It marks the start of a tough festive run for City, including a trip to Wolves on Tuesday and welcoming high-flying Tottenham and Fulham before the new year.
'It's always an important period over Christmas – a lot of games and a lot of points to be had,' said Whitbread. 'To keep doing what we're doing would be great. We have been playing well and we've been getting results, so it'll be tough but the lads are prepared for it.
'We can't lose concentration, keep on top of it and hopefully come out at the other end still in a decent position.'
Whitbread added: 'There's a few good mates of mine who are Everton fans and it's nice with all the banter this week, as you'd expect.
'But the Everton-Liverpool thing, it's nice to go back up north and play in front of a crowd that is local to you, but I'm looking at it as any other game.
'It's a great ground to go and play at…I've experienced it (an FA Cup third round replay with Millwall in 2006), it's a great crowd and I've gone along to watch Everton with a couple of mates a few times, so I know what it's all about.
'They do get behind their team – but we'll be going there as every game, looking to get the result. It will be tough and we need to take into consideration their strengths.'