Norwich City boss Paul Lambert urges bravery against Manchester United
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Sir Alex Ferguson may have packed the hairdryer away for good but Paul Lambert knows his men will have to be fearless tomorrow at Carrow Road.
"I don’t think there has been a better manager in Britain to do what he’s done. It’s been a phenomenon, what’s happened up there, with how many years he’s been at the helm, turning teams over and over. You look at his record. Will it ever be done again, what he’s done in 25 years? God knows how many trophies he’s won – someone said 49 – it really is incredible. It’s just an unbelievable achievement."
Manchester United’s legendary manager revealed in a radio interview earlier this week his famous method of intimidation and confrontation is no longer a tactic of choice to tame the modern-day player. Not that the former shop steward has mellowed with age. Ferguson still has the capacity to strike fear into friend and foe alike – but fellow Glaswegian Lambert is ready to meet the challenge this weekend.
“I’ve spoken to him a lot on the phone, he is a really nice guy, and his success rate is huge, but no, there are not a lot of things that frighten me,” he said. “I’ve got the greatest time and respect for every manager in the game because football management is not very easy. It’s really tough.
“I’ve been in a League Two situation and I know what it’s like there. It’s really, really hard. And at the top end it’s the same, at that level where you have to win more games than not and he’s done that over that time, it’s a remarkable achievement.
“I don’t think there has been a better manager in Britain to do what he’s done. It’s been a phenomenon, what’s happened up there, with how many years he’s been at the helm, turning teams over and over. You look at his record. Will it ever be done again, what he’s done in 25 years? God knows how many trophies he’s won – someone said 49 – it really is incredible. It’s just an unbelievable achievement.”
Ferguson publicly admitted to a rare sign of fallibility with his team selection after the midweek Europa League defeat to Ajax. Lambert does not expect lightening to strike twice.
“He’s the greatest manager this country will ever see and there are not too many times he’s ever said that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter a jot, if you get through. It doesn’t matter how you do it in cup competitions, the thing is you have to try to get through. It will take some team to stop them going the distance.
“They’re an absolutely brilliant side, they really are. They’ve got brilliant players. Wayne Rooney is a world-class player, Paul Scholes coming back has been a major thing for them – I think he’s just a fantastic footballer. And obviously Ryan Giggs, those lads know how to win. They’ve been at the top for many a year, so I’m pretty sure coming to us is not going to really faze them.
“They’re going for the Premier League title again and we’re going to have to be on top of our game to get anything. What we have to do is try to play our own game and try to get after them as best we can.”
City counter-attacked with a fair degree of success in October’s 2-0 Old Trafford reverse. Lambert believes his men will need to revise that policy on home turf to retain an element of surprise.
“We have to be careful. You can’t be too gung-ho at the beginning because you could be out of the game before you’re in it,” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to do. We have to try and impose ourselves on the game, but they can certainly hurt you at any given time. I thought we played really, really well that day but if you don’t take your chances against a team like that, you knew what was going to happen because they can create things from absolutely nothing.
“It’s fantastic for our football club that a team of that stature has come here in the first place to play in a competitive game. They’re still one of the best teams in Europe, let alone Britain.
“It’s a great occasion for the Norwich crowd to see Manchester United come down, but we don’t want them to get an easy ride from us. We have to try to win – we need the points ourselves to try to stay in the league.”
City may have slipped quietly out of the FA Cup last weekend but Lambert’s squad host the reigning champions on the back of one league defeat in nine.
“The main priority is the team staying in the league,” he said. “We had a lot of injuries from the Swansea game last weekend and couldn’t risk a few of them to play in that game, but Manchester United is not a game we’re going to be frightened by.
“That’s the nature of it, you try to win, and the players have done fantastic to get us in this position. They’re the ones that deserve every bit of credit coming their way.
“They are good players, really good players. They have a great work ethic, great enthusiasm and they’re the ones that deserve everything that’s been said about them. It’s a big thanks to them that we’re sitting where we are. Sometimes they can get a bit under-estimated.”
Lambert confirmed defender Zak Whitbread is fit to return after missing both the Swansea league win and Leicester FA Cup defeat with a hamstring injury. Dani Ayala (hamstring) remains on the sidelines and United’s visit this weekend is expected to come too soon for left-back Marc Tierney (groin).
Striker James Vaughan successfully featured in a second half cameo against the Foxes last weekend, but Lambert intends to ease the ex-England U21 international gently back into the fold.
“It’s probably a bit too soon for Vaughan (to start). He did fine when he came on,” he said. “He and (Aaron) Wilbraham did great. James on another day might have scored but you have to be patient because of the length of time he’s been off.
“There are one or two little things carrying over from the Swansea game, so I have to wait and see. There will be a few coming back hopefully and I’ll just try to pick a team I think will win.”
Fit-again midfielder Jonny Howson has trained with the rest of the senior squad for the first time this week since arriving from Leeds last month, but will not be considered.
Howson arrived at Carrow Road with a knee injury that had ruled him out since December. City have a scheduled home Premier Reserve League fixture early next week against Wolves – but Lambert will make a decision on Howson’s possible involvement after the weekend.
“Jonny is looking all right and I hope he won’t be too far away,” he said.
“I’ll see how he’s doing (for next week) but he’s only done this week and may need a wee bit more time.”