Melissa Rudd: One Norwich City era ends - as Leitner ensure another continues
PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 September 2018
There would have been a cruel irony if Russell Martin's departure last week had preceded a first derby loss since before he joined the club.
As the last remaining stalwart of the golden Paul Lambert era, the man who captained us to a Wembley win in the most lucrative, high-pressured game in English football, Martin’s career in yellow and green had unfortunately begun to mirror that of City’s fortunes on the pitch.
That his last appearance was a 4-0 mauling at Millwall made for a sad ending to a nine-year stint that included the kind of success City’s current crop can at the moment only dream of. Given the Scot’s contract had only been extended through to 2019 less than two months before that afternoon at The Den last August, it was strange Daniel Farke gave him the cold shoulder quite so quickly. That performance was truly shocking all round, but Martin took the full force of the fallout.
For me, Martin was at his best when making marauding runs from right-back and sniffing out the danger in that wide berth. His consistent performances there made the ’Norfolk Cafu’ a pivotal figure in both of Lambert’s promotion-winning seasons and an impressive 12th-placed Premier League finish.
You’d struggle to find many games where the Brazilian Cafu played at centre-half, and Martin’s strengths never seemed to fit the central role, despite admitting it was his favoured position.
Whatever you thought of his performances on the pitch, the attitude Martin showed, especially in recent months, is a rare quality in his profession. Out of favour and training with the Under 23s, he was happily posting pictures with his young son at St Andrew’s last month as he cheered on his team-mates from the terraces. A model professional, once his playing days are over it would be lovely to see him back at the club in another capacity.
As one era ended, though, another one was preserved as Moritz Leitner’s second-half equaliser extended Norwich’s unbeaten run over Ipswich to 11 games. There have been some memorable matches during that streak. This was not one of them.
Norwich certainly had the better of the first half, but losing Timm Klose to injury seemed to unsettle a defence that had barely been troubled. The midfield sat deeper, invited Town to pile on pressure and when Gwion Edwards’ strike was diverted away from Tim Krul by a wicked deflection it felt like City’s luck in this fixture may just have run its course.
In the 14-minute period that Ipswich fans were able to enjoy their lead, the atmosphere took a distinct turn in the away end at Portman Road. Shouts of ‘Farke, sort it out’ rung round the Cobbold Stand Upper and there was audible booing when Emi Buendia was substituted.
Leitner’s acute finish put an end to that negativity and Norwich deserved credit for quickly finding a way back into a game that Ipswich were so desperate to see out, but it was a taster of just how badly a defeat to the rock bottom side would have gone down.
The young defence did well to stay resilient and preserve a point, with Ben Godfrey having to deputise for Klose and Max Aarons earning his first league start at right-back. There has been a distinct lack of opportunities for young players in previous years, but the one positive to transfer funds drying up has been the increased chances of Academy graduates breaking through into the first team. Hopefully, Todd Cantwell and others will follow in the footsteps of Aarons, Godfrey and Jamal Lewis in challenging for a place on the team sheet.
Most onlookers would agree that Sunday’s derby showcased two poor teams in the bottom eight of the Championship, and neither did enough to warrant a win. The contrast to the same fixture three and a half years ago when the two sides battled it out for a place in the play-off final is becoming more stark. It may be early days, but by the next one at Carrow Road in February we will have a much better idea of whether either team would have changed what end of the table they are challenging at.