Pilkington buoyed by lion-hearted Canaries
Anthony Pilkington is putting his trust in Norwich's team spirit to see them safely to Premier League survival. The Canaries came from behind to beat 10-man Queen's Park Rangers 2-1 at Loftus Road on Monday, where the home side's captain Joey Barton scored after just 11 minutes and was then sent off for an apparent headbutt on Bradley Johnson.
While the headlines focussed on Barton's dismissal, which QPR have announced they will be appealing against, Paul Lambert's men chalked up a second away win to put more distance between themselves and the bottom three.
Lambert made five changes to the starting XI on Monday – including a first Premier League appearance for the former St Mirren midfielder Simon Lappin – and is expected to bring in a couple of new faces to help the current group, who have all impressed on their step-up to the top flight, many as Premier League debutants.
The former Huddersfield winger Pilkington, whose equaliser against Rangers was his fifth goal of an impressive debut Premier League campaign, believes that only a real team effort will keep Norwich clear of a relegation dogfight.
"We have got a great squad and whoever comes in does really well, and it is up to them to keep the shirt," Pilkington said. "We changed the team again [on Monday] and it worked brilliantly. Everyone is working together and there is a great team spirit in there.
"All the boys and all the staff, we are working really hard to get our aim at the end of the season."
After being outclassed by Spurs at Carrow Road on 27 December, Norwich produced a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 1-1 with Fulham ahead of Monday's victory, thanks to a late strike from the Wales forward Steve Morison.
Something like five more wins from the remaining 18 games should see City, now in mid-table with 25 points, past the celebrated 40-point "safety" mark.
Pilkington, 23, was proud of Monday's win. "It is massive – hopefully at the end of the season we will look back at these wins and [can say] that is what has kept us up," he said. "Any win away from home in this league is huge and against one of the teams that are going to be around us come the end of the season.
"We are pulling away from the pack now. That is all we are looking for – to be in this league next season."
That said, as Norwich again failed to keep a clean sheet, Lambert is expected to strengthen his defence this month, though the return to fitness of Daniel Ayala, signed from Liverpool, after a knee injury has come as a timely boost.
"Daniel was outstanding again. For someone of just 21 years of age he was terrific on the ball and hopefully he keeps progressing at this club and has a great future," said the Norwich manager.
"We have [defender] Elliott Ward and [striker] James Vaughan to come back as well and that should make us even that bit stronger."
Norwich will be in FA Cup action at the weekend, at home to Burnley, andLambert accepts that he may have to give some of his players a breather. "We have got another hard programme coming up after the cup tie, so I might do [change things]," he said.
"Whatever team I pick I think will be able to go and win a game, so I am not going to disregard the FA Cup, because we will have too many people coming to watch us. We will try to go through, but I also know the league is vital to us."
Meanwhile, QPR could face sanction over an apparent Tweet from their director Ruben Emir Gnanalingam. The message, which was soon deleted, is reported to have accused the referee of being "biased and blind" for sending off Barton.
A fresh Tweet has since appeared from Gnanalingam, saying simply: "EPL should consider video evidence for red cards. The 4th official is there and can communicate with ref immediately."
In September, the FA wrote to QPR owner Tony Fernandes for tweeting "this referee is blind" when Michael Oliver failed to award a penalty against Aston Villa despite a clear handball by defender Alan Hutton.
The Norwich midfielder Johnson, meanwhile, was pictured at Monday night's PDC World Darts Championship final with a placard mocking the QPR captain. It read: "Barton, your breath stinks".
QPR manager Warnock is expected to further strengthen his squad during the January transfer window, having named the on-loan Manchester United striker Federico Macheda among the substitutes on Monday, as the west London club look to pull clear of the bottom three.
Rangers' veteran defender Clint Hill, 33, insists the whole squad will be up for the challenges ahead as the promoted Londoners seek to survive and thus avoid the dreaded yo-yo effect. He told the club's official website, www.qpr.co.uk: "Our recent slip down the table is alarming, of course it is.
"No one likes losing games. What is important is that we pull together and stop the rot. We have got to try and pick ourselves up now for what is going to be one hell of a battle."
QPR have allowed the midfielder Jason Puncheon to return to Southampton following just two appearances in his loan spell.
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