City youth team boss Ricky Martin hailed Declan Rudd the hero as Norwich's FA Youth Cup challenge survived the drama of a penalty shoot-out at Carrow Road last night.
Level at 1-1 with visitors Stoke City after extra-time, the England Youth keeper then took to centre stage and proved just why he and his younger colleague Jed Steer are so highly-regarded in Norfolk and beyond by first saving the Potters opening two penalties and then smashing home the decisive fifth and final spot-kick himself.
The kid has got character, of that there is now little doubt.
“I've got no qualms about telling you what I said,” said Martin, as he got the City teenagers into a centre-circle huddle ahead of the spot-kick dramas that were about to unfold.
“I got them all together and I looked across and said to Declan [Rudd]: 'You love this, don't you? You like this moment, don't you?'
“And he just smiled. And I said: 'You're going to be the hero…' And I don't know whether anyone saw, but as they walked off [to take the penalties] he actually walked back and said: 'I am going to be the hero…'
“And from that moment, I knew he was capable of doing it.”
And he duly did. Stoke's hearts were broken by those first two saves and as Dario Dumic, Nick Davey, David Stephens and Co did their bit so Norwich were fast booking a deserved place in the fifth round after dominating the preceeding two hours of open play.
“No disrespect to their keeper, but Declan was leagues apart,” said Martin. “And he had the capability of scoring too.
“I'd already named him down as the No5 taker. And I knew that one of JohnBull or David Stephens would miss – and it would all leave it down to Declan. And he hasn't been missing one in training. Not one.
“And he goes up and strikes it lovely – it was the best penalty of the night. He just takes a goal-kick. And all the accuracy and power he takes goalkicks with, he does it from 12-yards and it's in the back of the net.
It wasn't all plain sailing. There was the one moment of alarm when the Potters levelled deep into extra-time. One or two – boss included – thought it was job done. Only for there to be a dramatic sting in last night's FA Youth Cup tail.
“To be honest, I'm a little disappointed in myself,” Martin admitted, as he looked back at the Potters' 114th minute leveller having presumed that Tyree Clarke's 94th minute first had settled the contest.
“Because I'd thought we'd won it. It was relief when the goal went in – and I probably switched off a little bit. Just like the players.
“And I'd said to them: 'Don't get complacent, don't think you've won the game…' And that's exactly what we did. That was a disappointment. But for the first 90 minutes what a fantastic performance.
“We had some great chances; hit the woodwork I think four times; had some goalmouth scrambles. So everything apart from finishing them off, I was really, really pleased with the lads tonight.”
On the back of dumping Premiership Wigan out of this season's competition in round three, the young Canaries now have two, top flight scalps to their credit. And having beaten Academy Under-18 league leaders Arsenal 2-1 away in their last outing, there is clearly some wind in Norwich's sails right now.
“I think the way that we won that game, it will actually bring that squad closer together,” added Martin.
“Thought they will very quickly find out from me that we can't rely on going through like that in the next round. We need to finish a team off.”
As for next week's fifth round draw, the City Academy chief is happy to take on anyone – particularly someone who comes out to play.
Given the pace and invention in City's armoury, that would suit Norwich's needs to a T. Particularly whilst the centre-half pairing of the Dane Dumic and Stephens gives Martin's troops such a solid base from which to sally forth from.
“I think we're going to get that now in the fifth round – someone who comes to get at us. And a home tie again – now that would be something that I'd really look forward to.”