Paul Lambert: Loved and loathed at Colchester United
PUBLISHED: 13:02 31 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:51 13 November 2018
Colchester United writer Carl Marston reported on every one of Paul Lambert’s 43 games in charge of the U’s, in 2008-09. Here he reflects on the Lambert era, and what Town fans can expect from their new boss.
Paul Lambert can be a bit like marmite – some love him, a few loathe him.
Overall, though, he did a fine job during his short time at Colchester United, while also masterminding one of the most impressive results in the Essex club’s history.
I had the good fortune to report on every single one of his 43 matches as U’s boss, which spanned just 10 months between his appointment on October 9, 2008, and his shock departure on August 18, 2009.
During that time, he had a win ratio of 44.2%, an impressive statistic when remembered he inherited a club on the slide, having just nose-dived out of the Championship under previous boss Geraint Williams and then struggling to adapt to the move to a new home, from the much-loved and cosy Layer Road, to the less endearing Community Stadium on the edge of the town.
In the main, results were good and many of his new signings were hits, so why the comparison to a jar of marmite?
Well, the Scotsman did ruffle a few feathers down in Essex, following his move across from former Conference rivals Wycombe, not least because he did have a major clear-out of players.
But the main reason why he is loathed, as well as appreciated, among U’s fans is down to his shock exit, just when it looked as though his new-look side were on the verge of something big.
To preside over a sensational 7-1 victory away at Norwich City, on a never-to-be-forgotten opening day to the 2009-10 season, but then leave the club just 10 days later to become the Canaries’ new boss, was a bitter pill to swallow.
Of course every manager has ambitions to succeed, at the highest level possible, but it was felt by many that Lambert’s quickfire switch to Norwich, recently relegated to League One, was too soon – he had only just moulded a team that looked capable of mounting a promotion push over the months ahead.
As it turned out, Lambert guided Norwich back to the second tier at the first time of asking, and the U’s missed out on the play-offs under his successor, Aidy Boothroyd.
He could therefore feel rightly vindicated. It was a good decision for himself, and for the Canaries, but even now it sticks in the throat of some older U’s fans.
Personally, I found Lambert to be a very direct and forthright manager to deal with, always attending pre-match and post-match press conferences, while remaining upbeat and positive.
However, he was not one of those managers who you could build up a relationship with, outside of the official press conferences, unlike such predecessors as George Burley, Steve Wignall, Steve Whitton, Phil Parkinson and Geraint Williams, who were always readily available for a chat on the telephone at any time of the week.
Of course you don’t have to be pally with the press to be a good manager. Lambert was always civil, but kept his distance.
On the pitch, Lambert inherited a team stuck in the bottom four with just one win in six matches, and no wins at their new stadium.
He temporarily sorted out those home woes, with his new charges thumping visiting Carlisle 5-0, and a decent run either side of Christmas culminated in Lambert winning the League One January manager of the month award.
The U’s threatened the play-offs – they moved to within seven points – but a poor run-in saw them fall back to a mid-table position in 12th, a distant 13 points adrift of the top six.
Off the pitch, a lot of the old guard were either released, discarded or, in some cases, reduced to training with the youth team, ahead of the 2009-10 season.
But new recruits like midfielder David Fox, striker Kevin Lisbie (on loan from Ipswich), centre-half Magnus Okuonghae and keeper Ben Williams suggested that exciting times were just around the corner.
And they were.
I will never forget that 7-1 thrashing of Norwich, in front of a bumper crowd of over 25,000.
The Norfolk faithful expected a comfortable first day, following their relegation, against the Essex minnows, only to find themselves trailing 4-0 inside 20 minutes.
The U’s were in dream-land that day, and were top of League One following a 2-1 home win over Yeovil the following weekend.
But it all ended in tears.
Lambert’s resignation was not accepted by the U’s, and no compensation package had been agreed before the 40-year-old packed his bags and headed to Carrow Road.
He left with the U’s on top of League One, since when there has been a gradual decline (and one relegation) over the intervening years.
Lambert, in the mean-time, has had a rollercoaster ride at various clubs up and down the country.
U’s fans will look on with interest to see how he fares, just 16 miles away at Portman Road.