If Saturday proves to be the last time that Darel Russell stands in as a central target man, then he can bow out on a high after rescuing a big, big point for the Canaries for the second, successive home game.
His neat, 46th minute finish was all that the Norfolk club deserved after turning on the style this weekend against early league leaders Birmingham City.
But with the Daily Mail today insisting that Bolton's Heidar Helguson was Carrow Road-bound on a season-long loan ahead of the transfer window closing tonight, so Russell could – at last – find himself withdrawn from frontline duties.
The 31-year-old Helguson started Bolton's embarrassing Carling Cup exit at home to Northampton last week, but was back on the bench for this weekend's 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion. The arrival of Polish international Ebi Smolarek on a season-long loan at the Reebok has – the Mail's theory goes – now freed up Gary Megson's hand and allowed him to listen to loan offers for the 5ft 10in Icelandic international.
All of which – if true – may yet find Russell competing for a place back in his beloved central midfield when the Canaries resume their Championship campaign away at Plymouth in 12 days time. As of this morning, however, there was no immediate sign of Helguson rolling up at the gates of Colney.
The game of rumour and counter-rumour could just be about to begin as the midnight hour looms. Norwich could yet find themselves left with nothing for the next week; after that and they would need to hit the 'emergency loan' market with a real vengeance when that re-opens after a seven-day cooling off period.
With Jason Shackell's ?500,000 switch to Wlves still expected to go through today once his personal details and medical are complete, so maybe that extra cash will enable Canary boss Glenn Roeder to set his sights that much higher price-wise with both Shackell's transfer fee and his saved wages now tucked up his sleeve.
“I just kept saying to the boys at half-time – just give me one chance and, hopefully, I'll try and put it in the back of the net,” said Russell afterwards, little knowing that that one chance would arrive no more than 30 seconds later as Arturo Lupoli darted into the Blues box and allowed the ball to run on into the City midfielder's path.
Having stolen half a yard on Liam Ridgewell, Russell bagged his second goal in as many home games with a low, bobbly drive inside Maik Taylor's left-hand post.
“It was little bit of a scuff, but I was glad that it trickled past the keeper,” said Russell, who had enjoyed' a largely chanceless outing up front against Cardiff a week earlier.
On that occasion he had Jamie Cureton for company; this weekend and it was Lupoli's turn to partner City's stand-in striker. It would be hard to say that the two proved a deadly combination, but Russell proved once more that he enjoys a keen eye for goal – as and when an all-too rare opportunity drops. As for Lupoli, he looked a different player following his two-goal haul at Ninian Park.
Before the break, in particular, he was working some smart triangles with Wes Hoolahan and the excellent Ryan Bertrand – even if all Norwich had to show for it was Sebastian Larsson's Blues opener.
“I was a bit disappointed at Cardiff – I didn't really get a proper chance whilst I was up there. But I was lucky I got a chance today and it went in the back of the net.”
Should Roeder manage to plug that last big, gaping holein his 2008-2009 armoury in the next 16-odd hours, so he will have a big decision to make come that long haul down to Home Park – just what does he now do with Russell? After his eye-catching efforts in Wales, Matty Pattison had a quieter afternoon on the City right; that might be an option.
But that has its problems; Russell is no natural wide player; his strengths lie in the middle of the park where three into two refuses to go.
Is he enjoying that centre-forward role? “It's difficult to say,” he said. “I found it a lot harder in terms of running up there.
“The last ten, 15 minutes I was dead on my feet – and I find that I can run harder and better from the midfield. To a certain extent, it's easier.
“Up front, you are kind of sprinting all the time; from one place to another. So from that point of view I didn't particularly enjoy it – I was absolutely finished by the end.
“But it is nice to get involved. And like I said before, I've got an aim of a certian amount of goals this season and that's another one ticked off now.”
For the record, Russell's second strike puts him 20% of the way to his season-long target. Not bad by the first day of September.
“It was disappointing going in at the end of the first-half being 1-0 down,” said Russell. “Because I felt we did do well; I really expected more from Birmingham; I thought they'd be giving us a more difficult game than they were.
“But we got back into it in the second-half and I just felt that if we got a couple of better chances, we perhaps could have nicked it and take the win which I felt that perhaps deserved overall over the 90 minutes.”
The biggest chance, of course, came at the other end in the 90th minute when Kevin Phillips found himself one-on-one with David Marshall deep in the City box. Good night and thank you, ran through the mind of all concerned as the veteran striker teed himself up for the winner…
“A guy of his quality and class, I almost guaranteed that he would have put it in the back of the net and just chipped it over him. But lucky for us he's not lifted it enough and Marsh [Marshall] has made an absolutely fantastic save.
“That late in the game it would have sucked a lot of confidence out of us to lose it at that late a stage – especially going into the international break for two week. But thank goodness for us, we've managed to get that draw and it's a positive.”
It didn't, however, feel like a win – even if the supporters' reception at the final whistle did.
“We're desperate for that win right now,” said Russell, with this weekend's result leaving the Canaries stuck uneasily in 19th slot with just those three points to their name.
“It is a positive that we're still unbeaten in three, but we're still searching for that first win. And now we've got two weeks to wait before we can actually get that first win.
“We're just kind of itching to get back out there; wishing that we had a game Tuesday so that we can get that three points on the board – because they're massive in this division.”
Leave a Reply