Quiz Darel Russell as to whether it was that extra special derby atmosphere that drove the Canaries on to producing one of their best displays of this season, if not last, and he points his finger elsewhere.
?I felt that the players on the pitch had a nice atmosphere – there was a good atmosphere among the boys,? said Russell, the sponsors choice for man of the match in yesterday's thrilling 2-2 draw with the neighbours.
It was a good choice, but there were others.
Yesterday's live derby clash was arguably Luke Chadwick's best-ever game in a City shirt – one he could have capped with a wonderful goal after a fabulous drag-back and turn that left two Town defenders trailing on the edge of the box only for keeper Neil Alexander to save – while Julien Brellier was, like Russell, crisp and purposeful in the tackle. Jason Shackell did little wrong, either.
?We worked hard as a team and, to be honest, we came in at half-time and I couldn't believe that we were 2-0 down.
?I don't know where on Earth those two goals had come from,? added Russell, the answer being a sharp one-two and finish from Alan Lee and a controversial tap-in from Pablo Counago.
Given that by then Cureton had twice stabbed horribly wide, Jason Shackell had been denied by a post and Dion Dublin had seen Alexander pull off a wonderful, one-handed save to deny his early, near-post header and Russell wasn't the only one in Norfolk to think that the Fates were still conspiring against the Championship's bottom team.
?It seemed to me that rub of the green when you're at the wrong end of the table,? said Russell. ?But we believed that we were good enough and, to be honest with you, I felt we cruised all the way through the game and though we've got a draw at the end of it, we should definitely have won it.?
Certainly Counago's second did Norwich few favours with Billy Clarke looking as if he hooked the ball back from a foot behind the goal-line. That said, as the ball squeezed between new-boy Martin Taylor and keeper David Marshall, there was not a yellow shirt in sight as the Town striker guided the ball home into an empty net.
Play to the whistle – it's a basic. Instead City stood still.
?It's an unreal goal again,? said Russell. ?I've spoken to Tiny (Taylor) and he says he thinks it was off the pitch and obviously a lot of us have stopped.
?But fair play to all of the lads we stood up and didn't drop our heads – and the crowd stuck with us.
?And actually I think when we were going back to put the ball down for a centre, I remember the crowd clapping and cheering – there wasn't a boo or anything like that. They were still behind us and believed that we were still doing well and that kind of encouraged us to keep doing well.?
Certainly as a midfield partnership, the Russell-Brellier combo gave City as solid a platform as they have had this season; for whatever reason, they clicked. Combative, aggressive and in peoples' faces from first minute to last, their high-energy performance as a pair made all the difference.
?The engine room is where a game can be won or lost,? said Russell, underwhelmed by Town youngster Owen Garvan who struggled to hit his usual heights in that congested midfield battleground.
?We'd had a big report about Garvan – he was meant to be a good player and so on and so forth, but I didn't see that today. I thought we've shut him out and kept him very quiet today and imposed ourselves on the game.
?Did we do enough to win it? Most definitely.?
There was, said Russell, far more riding on this particular derby tussle than just Monday morning bragging rights.
?I've played in a few of them before,? said the 27-year-old, like goal-scorer Jamie Cureton now on his second tour of duty with the club that first nurtured his teenage talents. ?But it's not just a derby – we're at the bottom of the league and even a win today wouldn't have got us off the bottom of the table.
?So there were a lot of things riding on today's game and we were all wanting to do it for the right reasons.?
Interestingly, Russell now has a new midfield mentor in the shape of Canary No2, Lee Clark.
The 35-year-old has already taught the one-time City youth star a trick or two – in particular at the start of the 1999-2000 season when Fulham proved tough league and cup opponents.
Indeed, the Clark versus Russell midfield show ran for three games over the course of four weeks with City coming a-cropper on each occasion – Clark actually bagging the third goal in Fulham's painful 4-0 dismissal of the Canaries at Carrow Road in the first leg of their second round League Cup clash that autumn.
?I remember playing against Lee round about 2000 – three times in a month, I think. And I remember he gave me the runaround. But I learnt a lot from playing against him.
?And, hopefully, from my point of view being a midfielder as well he can pass on his knowledge of the position and improve me as a player – and improve the rest of the team as well.?
Thereafter, the only way is up. Time to take a leaf out of Sunderland's book.
?We've got an aim – and the aim is to get ourselves out of the bottom three,? said Russell. ?And from there push on.
?And aim for the play-offs. That's what we aimed to do from the start of the season. Sunderland did it last year – if we strive for the stars and we reach the moon, it's a good enough achievement.?
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