Will Lambert stick or twist?

Paddy DavittStick or twist is Paul Lambert's dilemma now that the Football League's emergency loan route is open for business. Sepp Blatter and football's world governing body may frown on England's flouting of the traditional two seasonal transfer window system - but for managers outside the top flight it's a godsend.Paddy Davitt

Stick or twist is Paul Lambert's dilemma now that the Football League's emergency loan route is open for business.

Sepp Blatter and football's world governing body may frown on England's flouting of the traditional two seasonal transfer window system - but for managers outside the top flight it's a godsend.

Squads hit by injuries and suspensions can now be bolstered for the run-in as an arduous campaign takes its toll. A loan injection potentially works wonders - whatever the club, whatever the level. Whether it's looking over collective shoulders desperate to retain league status, or scrambling above the play-off waterline come early May, or cementing automatic promotion. In boardrooms up and down the land right now you can bet the chatter centres on weighing up that financial gamble to draft in an extra player or two.

Lambert and the current Norwich City hierarchy have made a point of steering clear of any Roederesque reliance on the loan system. With Russell Martin and Antony McNamee now permanent features at Carrow Road only the excellent Fraser Forster and Michael Rose are on temporary tours of duty. But clubs can carry up to five loanees in any match day squad.

Forster is almost a de facto fixture in Lambert's plans after Norwich extended his initial switch to the end of the current season. Rose is due back at his previous employers, Stockport, at the end of the season. Time will tell if Lambert has been suitably impressed. Clearly with Adam Drury sidelined and Rhoys Wiggins allowed to kick start his career a step lower down at Bournemouth that is one area the Scot must address.

Not that we need second guess Lambert. He went public with his thoughts during the January transfer window. Too many midfielders. Not enough centre backs. Need a striker or two. The versatile Zak Whitbread's arrival from Millwall allied to the pending returns of fit-again duo Michael Spillane and Jens Berthel Askou appear to solve one conundrum. Oli Johnson made an instant impact up front on his arrival from Stockport as an alternative to the free scoring duo Grant Holt and Chris Martin. But Lambert is already pleading for patience. Johnson has spent less than two years in the professional ranks and is still learning his trade. For Norwich to remain in the top two they may need the finished article.

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Holt's recent suspension emphasised the point. City's weary troops were tested to the limit after falling behind against both Walsall and Hartlepool, but they prevailed. Millwall proved a bridge too far.

Clearly the Lions on their own patch are a match for the division's best. With or without Holt. But how well will City cope again if suspension or injury robs then of the much-coveted Holy Trinity between now and the close of play.

Lambert has until March 26 to take out an insurance policy. You don't need to be Carol Vorderman to realise with the right forward planning any new arrivals can remain here for the duration. Subject to the usual instant recalls after the first 28 days of their stay.

But times are tough. After last week's annual meeting, no-one needs reminding of the financial constraints Norwich now operate within. Lambert at any other stage of this season could only dream of picking up an out-of-favour Championship player. Let's say a striker for argument's sake - given it appears Lambert has defensive and midfield options a plenty. Just that one player who could make a real difference in League One. Top two and automatic promotion.

Even this proactive City board would have surely baulked at the potential wage demands of recruiting a proven higher level performer. Lambert in any case wants young, hungry players as he builds for the future. But for the here and now a little bit of streetwise nous could prove invaluable.

There are no guarantees but picking up a three month tab for promotion? Seems a decent trade off. Plus there are plenty of Championship strikers kicking their heels. If you were Swansea boss Paulo Sousa right now letting underused striker Craig Beattie out of his sight makes sense. A Scottish international who Lambert would know all about from his Celtic days. The 25-year-old has a one goal in two league strike rate in the top two divisions but has played twice for the Swans in the Championship since November. A bit part role in the Welsh club's play-off bid.

Pack him off to Norfolk for some regular action with a call back clause. Maybe pay a proportion of his wages to seal the deal and at the same time free up some funds for the Portuguese to do his own wheeling and dealing.

City's rivals have already taken advantage of the system. Leeds moved for Birmingham's talented frontman Gary McSheffrey. Charlton welcomed Sheffield Wednesday's Akpo Sodje to The Valley. Both initially for a month. If McSheffrey proves the difference when Leeds visit Carrow Road next month - however deep Ken Bates has had to dig - it would be seen as priceless.

The question is not whether can City afford to do it. Can they afford not to?