City full-back Russell Martin proved once again that he was the man for the big occasion by grabbing his second, decisive goal in as many home league games to prise another late, late point out of visitors Cardiff City this weekend.
Jon Parkin’s sweetest of seventh minute strikes looked to be giving the Bluebirds a tight, 1-0 away win in that race for the second, automatic spot – the title isn’t wholly out of anyone’s reach either as Rangers’ wobble continues.
But cometh the last minute of normal time, cometh the man as the Canary right-back continued to enjoy a flying start to 2011 with the winner against Rangers, a 25th birthday on January 4th and now that crucial leveller against Dave Jones’ promotion hopefuls.
The fact that, defensively, he had a certain Craig Bellamy to keep firmly under wraps merely added to the deep sense of satisfaction evident afterwards. It had been a very good day at the office.
“I’ve played against him [Bellamy] twice now and everyone knows how good he is – but I’ve enjoyed it,” said Martin (R) afterwards, as he and his opposite number Adam Drury took the game to the opposition and drove ever deeper towards that by-line; pinning Bellamy and Peter Whittingham deep in their own half.
“And I’m happy how I’ve done with him [Bellamy],” added Martin. “We all know what he’s got going the other way, but as he said at the end he was fed up running back with me!
“But that’s the way we play; we try to run over teams and the Gaffer has got us really fit in pre-season. And I think it shows – towards the end of games we always finish strongly.
“We didn’t start great today, but I think the fitness showed. And I’m happy with the way that I dealt with him. I think we ran the legs off them in the end.”
There were, certainly, long periods in the contest when Cardiff struggled to get hold of the ball; in contrast to newly-crowned December Player of the Month Wes Hoolahan, who had a ball for much of the afternoon.
David Fox slammed a beauty against the bar; Grant Holt had a large shout for a penalty denied; only a linesman’s offside flag denied the Canary skipper an earlier leveller.
“I think we deserved at least a point for the way that we played,” said Martin, after a result that found the Canaries heading for the final straight sat very pretty in fourth.
“I think we dominated for most of the game, really – they were dangerous on the counter-attack.
“But apart from that, I think we’ve dealt with their threat well and played some really good stuff. And on another day, could maybe have had a couple more goals,” he added, the significance of that point, that goal and that result not lost on the former Posh skipper.
“But the way that it has happened, we’ll take the point and we still haven’t lost back-to-back games under the Gaffer – and it keeps us in the pack.”
Not for the first time – the eighth, according to some – Norwich left it late to pull a big result out of the fire.
Drury’s low cross found substitute Simon Lappin helping the ball onto the far post where – from a nigh-on impossible angle – Martin managed to angle the ball up and in off the underside of the Bluebirds bar.
Cue general mayhem and a wave of relief sweeping across Carrow Road.
“Holty [Grant Holt] had one disallowed in the first-half… I missed a header in the second… so you do wonder whether or not it was going to be one of those days,” Martin admitted, conscious that his margin for error was slim to nil as opportunity knocked for his second big moment in successive home league games.
“Fortunately, it’s just popped up in the right place and I’ve just got my foot on it – and it’s gone in. I think had I missed it, one or two of the lads would have slated me for not pulling it back. But, fortunately, it’s gone in.
“It was a tight angle – and I’m not sure how it’s gone in. And then I killed myself with the celebration. I ran off too quickly – so I was knackered for the next couple of minutes!”
It took his tally to four for the season – no mean return for a full-back; more importantly, it took his tally to four points from a potential six against first leaders Queen’s Park Rangers and now another big point against second-placed Cardiff.
“I’m there to defend first and foremost, but if I can pop up with a few goals too then that’s great,” said Martin.
“That they’ve come against QPR and Cardiff, I’ll take that. But any goal I score is a bonus – particularly at home here with the crowd. And, hopefully, there’ll be time to score one or two more.”