I owe Russell big thanks - Smith
David Cuffley The youngest regular member of Norwich City's League One title-winning team paid tribute to his midfield mentor as they together savoured the carnival atmosphere at Carrow Road.
The youngest regular member of Norwich City's League One title-winning team paid tribute to his midfield mentor as they together savoured the carnival atmosphere at Carrow Road.
Nineteen-year-old Korey Smith has been one of the Canaries' big successes in his first full season in the senior ranks, playing 39 times in all competitions since Paul Lambert's arrival as manager - after just two previous first team appearances at the end of last season.
Midfielder Smith has played most of those games in the company of Darel Russell, whose own senior debut came 12 years ago as a 17-year-old, and whose goal against Gillingham put City on course for the 2-0 win that guaranteed top spot.
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Smith said: “I really look up to Rusty as a player and as a friend. He always helps me out off the pitch, talks to me about different things, to do with football or not, and he's been a great help to me all season and I'd like to thank him for that.”
Comparisons have been drawn between the tenacious approach of Smith and Russell in a midfield department where Wes Hoolahan, Simon Lappin and Stephen Hughes have provided much of the attacking impetus.
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“There are similarities between us,” said Smith.
“We both like to get in and make tackles but no two players are exactly the same. You've got to take things from his game and put them into your game, but you are still a different player and you've got to play your own game too.”
Smith was left almost speechless by the prospect of a championship medal in his first season in the spotlight.
He said: “I can't put it into words, really. It's a dream come true and I'm so happy.
“My first involvement last year was when we got relegated so I've seen the worst thing that can happen and now I've experienced the best thing that can happen and I'm really happy for the lads and happy for myself.”
He missed the promotion-clinching victory at Charlton a week earlier with an ankle injury but was determined to enjoy every minute after being recalled against Gillingham.
“Charlton was where we got relegated last year and to miss out, I was really gutted, but I was happy that the gaffer put me back (today) and we won the match,” he said.
“I didn't even think about the injury. We started off quite slow in the first half but in the second half we really pushed on and we had chances.
“Rusty scored a very good goal and Michael Nelson, who played excellently, came up with another goal.
“I am enjoying the moment, I'm going to continue to enjoy it and I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
The prospect of Championship football excites Smith.
“I hope we can push on going into next season. It's a great level to play at. We've seen some of the teams this year that have come down from the Premiership and I can't wait, really,” he said.
The former City Under-18 skipper has also demonstrated an eye for goal, scoring four in League One this season.
“The front three have done tremendously well and the other strikers have come in and contributed, and I was happy to get a couple of important goals for the team as well,” he said.