Lambert's birthday wish

COLCHESTER United manager Paul Lambert is hoping for a belated 40th birthday present - an opening day win at East Anglian rivals Norwich City.

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United manager Paul Lambert is hoping for a belated 40th birthday present - an opening day win at East Anglian rivals Norwich City.

Lambert celebrates his milestone 40th birthday today, but he might put those landmark celebrations on hold for 24 hours.

United face a tough test at Carrow Road, against a side who are amongst the favourites to clinch immediate promotion back to the Championship. The task does not faze the confident Scotsman.

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“I'm surprised to see Norwich in this division, but then you have to look at Leeds United, Charlton and Southampton, who were all in the Premier League not so long ago,” said Lambert.

“You have to earn the right to be where you want to be. Norwich away is a great test for us, and it's no surprise that they are one of the favourites to go up, with the size of the club and the players they have signed.

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“There should be a brilliant atmosphere at Carrow Road. If you don't want to play there, then you've got a problem!” added Lambert.

The Scotsman will have to make do without the services of Steven Gillespie tomorrow, although he has had plenty of practice of coping with the absence of the luckless striker over the last year.

Gillespie only played one full 90 minutes last term, due to injury, and the U's club record signing will sit out the opening day trip to Norfolk due to a sore hamstring.

Lambert is therefore likely to start with summer recruit Kevin Lisbie alongside Clive Platt up front, although Scott Vernon has also impressed in pre-season.

“Steven (Gillespie) will not be ready for this weekend,” confirmed Lambert.

“He suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that he picked up in Germany (pre-season training camp). It's not too severe, but he won't be in contention for the Norwich game.

Defender Paul Reid is the only other injury victim - he is making a cautious return following the broken knee cap that he sustained at Huddersfield last March.

Meanwhile, want-away midfielder Johnnie Jackson was a notable absentee at yesterday's official Colchester United Media Day at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

Jackson is desperate to leave the U's, having asked for a transfer last month. The former Tottenham 26-year-old has only featured for 45 minutes in pre-season, at the first friendly at Tiptree a month ago.

Lambert said: “I have always wanted Johnnie (Jackson) to stay and give it a go at Colchester, but his agent came to me and said that he wanted to leave.

“That's his choice, not mine. Johnnie has said that he wants to play in central midfield, but I can't guarantee him a place in that position.

“As yet, we have had no offers for him,” added Lambert.

Jackson was therefore not included in yesterday's team photo shoot. Medy Elito and Matt Lockwood were also not present, suggesting that both are expected to move on in the near-future.

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