City boss Glenn Roeder found a little bit of everything in this evening's 2-2 draw with Colchester United – including a potential new striker in Darel Russell.
On as a second-half substitute after Arturo Lupoli's debut ended on the 45-minute mark, the City midfielder rolled back the years and returned to the striking days of his youth with a two-goal haul that spared many a Norfolk blush following Steven Gillespie's 44th minute opener.
The first was an absolute peach – a 25-yard curling effort that had Roeder purring afterwards.
“I told him before the game that he would be coming on at half-time as a striker,” said Roeder, unable to field Pompey teenager Omar Alieu Koroma this evening for the same international clearance reasons that dogged Lupoli – hence the need for Russell to fill the gap. Which he did with definite aplomb.
“And I wanted him to show the kind of strong mentality that I want in anyone at Norwich City; I know that's not his best position… but having seen him play there for 45 minutes, my opinion might be about to change.”
Certainly Russell's attitude to his stand-in striker role has done him no harm at all with the manager after being forced to play second fiddle to the Mark Fotheringham-Sammy Clingan midfield combo for much of this summer – rough justice some might argue on one of Norwich's few consistent performers last season.
Now, however, and his star is back on the rise again.
“To not to show any sort of dejection or bad attitude towards being asked to play out of position… in fact, his first response was: 'Fantastic – I just want to be on the pitch, boss! And if that's where you want me to play, that'll be fine.'
“And his last comment was as he left the office was that I've actually played there as a youngster – and watching him tucking those two goals away, I can start to believe him now.”
It was the first that was the show-stopper – albeit helped by a perfectly-weighted through-ball from Wes Hoolahan that just invited Russell to latch onto it, cut back and sweep a majestic 25-yarder inside the far upright.
“It was a goal that if a Berbatov or a Ronaldo had scored in the Premiership at five past four on a Sunday afternoon everyone is going: 'My God! What skill, what talent all these foreign players have got to be able to bend the ball in from 25-yards top corner…' But Darel Russell has shown that he's capable of doing that as well.”
Just what Arturo Lupoli is capable of doing remains, for now, one of the $64 million questions for City's forthcoming season after the one-time Gunners starlet finally gained his international clearance and made his first start against the U's. Roeder was quietly pleased with the young Italian's efforts – convinced that there is far, far more to come once he hits the kind of fitness levels enjoyed by his team-mates.
“Considering he wasn't playing until an hour before kick-off and that's his first game for months and months, I thought he did very well,” said Roeder, with the 21-year-old also picking up a very slight groin strain for his troubles as he waited for an Italian fax machine to finally whirr into life.
“It was ironic that when the clearance finally came through, it was touch-and-go whether he was going to be able to take any part in the game today.
“But we gave him a fitness test this morning because overnight he felt a lot better, but I told him – whatever happens – you're only playing 45 minutes. I wasn't going to take him to the point of tiredness when the groin could have caused him a problem again.
“And you could see that, at the moment, that was probably the maximum that he could do – he's had very little training at Fiorentina. He's barely halfway through a pre-season whereas our guys have had a full pre-season's training.”
In those 45 minutes you could still see a technically excellent player, even if clear-cut chance remained few and far between. He hit one, crisp low shot that was saved relatively easily by U's keeper Dean Gerken; otherwise the City faithful had to settle for some smart, one-touch link-up play with the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Mark Fotheringham from the one-time record-breaking Italian youngster.
“He's definitely going to cause defenders trouble – that's for sure.
“And what I've found with him already is that he's an amazingly positive striker; if he gets faced up in the final third he's looking for one thing – to get passed the final defender and get his shot away. So I think there will be thrills and spills with him this year.
“Sometimes he will be frustrating because the defender will stop him and other times he'll be exciting because he'll skip passed the final defender and he'll hammer the ball into the back of the net.”
Off the pitch and Roeder is also seeing good signs. “He's a good lad to work with; he definitely has got the Italian professionalism in him; he enjoys his training; he enjoys hard work. And, overall, you'd have to say he put a lot of energy into those 45 minutes.”
The City chief was also smitten with John Kennedy after the on-loan Bhoys defender slipped comfortably in alongside Dejan Stefanovic at the heart of that rebuilt City defence. He did, of course, have that one blemish to his name – as the ball scuffed away from from and to the feet of Gillespie. In fairness, it was a delightful, instinctive lob that gave the U's their opener.
“Too many people have said to me he would have been the best player to come out of Scotland for 30, 40 years. Because he's not only an excellent defender, very aggressive in the air and in the tackle, but then he doesn't just lump the ball in the stand – unless it has to go there.
“When he's got time, he's looking for passes; to start a move; the way that Dejan does. You look at Stefanovic and it's all too easy for him. There's a man who's been there, done it and got the badge. And he's going to be a super role model for our younger players.”