Lambert set for a hot reception as he takes Ipswich to Carrow Road... but Norwich have a lot to thank him for
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:25 09 February 2019
Paul Lambert is set for a hot reception when he takes Ipswich Town to Carrow Road tomorrow. ANDY WARREN looks at the Blues boss’s time at Norwich
It’s 5pm on August 8, 2009 and Norwich City have reached their lowest ebb.
Relegation has left the Canaries in the third tier for the first time since 1960 but, what was expected to be a return at the first attempt has begun with a complete and utter disaster.
Club legend Bryan Gunn has overseen a 7-1 humbling at the hands of Colchester and had one of City’s 18,000 season ticket holders throw his ticket in his direction as the boos rang out inside Carrow Road.
All summer optimism had evaporated.
But, thankfully for the Canaries, the man who would lift them out of their black hole was already in the building that day.
Just 10 days later the man who had masterminded the trouncing was installed in the Carrow Road hotseat, as Paul Lambert left Colchester to move to Norfolk.
The rest is history.
Fast forward a decade and Ipswich Town head to Carrow Road without a victory over their old rivals in nearly 10 years.
And they do so with a former Norwich boss in their corner. Surely that would have been unthinkable as Lambert swatted Ipswich aside with 4-1 and 5-1 victories in 2010/11.
He will almost certainly be booed and ridiculed throughout Sunday’s game, exactly as you would expect a manager who has crossed the East Anglian divide to be.
The jeers will come for a variety of reasons. Some will be the pain of seeing a man who achieved so much in yellow siding with the enemy, some will be due to the manner of his departure in 2012 and others will simply be pantomime.
The break-up was painful but, in the fullness of time the relationship is one both Norwich and Lambert should look back on with fondness and gratitude.
Norwich fans have had happy relationships since, Lambert is in the club’s hall of fame and if you ask the City fans, many will tell you he is the greatest manager in the club’s history.
Dominance in this fixture is just one of many categories in which Norwich have the upper hand during this decade.
Two spells in the Premier League, parachute payments, bigger attendances, big-name visitors, cup runs, a Wembley final, big money signings and now the real prospect of a third trip to the top table. All while Ipswich have been stuck in the Championship.
The closest Ipswich came to promotion in that time was ultimately thwarted by Alex Neil’s Norwich in the 2014/15 play-offs, of course.
Lambert’s rescue job at Norwich was successful at the earliest opportunity and the promotion back to the Championship in the spring time of 2010 was the first step on what was has been an action-packed 10-year road for those of a yellow persuasion.
Promotion to the Premier League followed immediately, before Lambert kept the Canaries in the big time comfortably ahead of an acrimonious departure in the summer of 2012.
Lambert was gone but the Canaries remained in the top flight for two further seasons before relegation in 2014, setting the club up for the future financially.
He had reinvigorated Norwich just as Ipswich fans so hope he can on the other side of the East Anglian Derby divide, even if that means having his hand on the tiller as they sink into League One before beginning the rebuild job in earnest.
Norwich’s rise under Lambert was not built on money and it must be said that all of the Canaries’ success has come without heavy financial backing from the club’s ownership. Not compared to the riches being thrown around elsewhere, anyway.
Credit must go to Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber and those around them for taking Norwich in a new direction with a clear plan, but without that promotion from League One when all optimism had drained away as reality bit hard, none of what Norwich enjoy now would have been possible.
Without Lambert there would have been no Premier League and, quite possibly, Grant Holt, Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan would not have emerged as club legends. A decade of derby bragging rights would not have followed.
Much is made of the roles played Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa during Lambert’s successes at both Colchester and Norwich and it’s notable that the Ipswich boss has not repeated his early successes in short-term roles at Blackburn, Wolves and Stoke since the duo left his side following an unravelling in their relationship at Aston Villa.
But Lambert has assembled a new team now, with assistant Stuart Taylor a highly-respected coach and Matt Gill crossing the border from Norwich to join his former boss at Portman Road.
While all of the attention will be on Lambert come high noon on Sunday, it will surely be a surreal afternoon for Gill. The Norwich boy, former Norwich player, and ex-Norwich coach who played such a key role in the emergence of talented youngsters Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Todd Cantwell.
There have been calls for the Norwich crowd to unleash a rain of boos on their former boss as he returns with an Ipswich badge on his chest.
He’ll be expecting that and, though he was at pains not to discuss it during his pre-match press conference, will probably be relishing it too. Make no mistake, ask Lambert for his feelings on Norwich privately and you will be left in no doubt just how badly the Scot wants to redress the balance and put a dent in the progress of his old side. Both short-term and long-term.
Lambert will need to deal with an assault on his senses when he steps out onto the Carrow Road touchline. Hisses from the ‘Snakepit’, bile from the Barclay End he used to salute after games and an outpouring of love from the away fans who have placed their hope in him. ‘Paul Lambert is a Blue, he hates Norwich’, they will sing.
But as he’s said many times, in his mind this isn’t about him, it’s about the players, two sets of fans and, most notably for him these days, rebuilding Ipswich Town Football Club.
He took over Norwich at their lowest ebb, but Ipswich sadly look to have further still to fall before the journey back can begin.
Just like Norwich on August 8, 2009, Ipswich already have the man tasked with leading the revival in the building.
The hope is now that he will have the same effect.