Mum's the word as Russell relishes return
Darel Russell's mum is enjoying her son's second spell at Norwich City almost as much as the fans. Russsell's man of the match performances - which earned him the fans' accolade of Anglian Player of the Month for December - have coincided with a lack of space in his fridge at home as the sponsors' champagne flows in his direction.
Darel Russell's mum is enjoying her son's second spell at Norwich City almost as much as the fans.
Russsell's man of the match performances - which earned him the fans' accolade of Anglian Player of the Month for December - have coincided with a lack of space in his fridge at home as the sponsors' champagne flows in his direction.
Which is good news for mum.
"It's being stocked up at the moment," said Russell. "I'm not a champagne drinker, unfortunately, but my mum cracked open one of them and then took the rest home with her."
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Russell has, arguably, been City's best performer this season, his good form coinciding with City's revival - and the arrival of manager Glenn Roeder who quickly evaluated his playing stock and began to remove the dead wood. Loan players were quickly taken on board, while existing contracts were terminated as Roeder shuffled his currently meagre playing resources. The effect was, more or less, immediate.
"Any type of extra players that come in are going to give you a different insight because they are coming in from a different point of view and they have all done well," said Russell.
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"It obviously increases competition and sometimes you can get loan players who come in and mug it off in a way. They take it easy and don't really give you the full effort.
"But the lads we have had in have been fantastic and have really wanted to play for the club and they play like they are actually permanently here."
Paul Gallacher, Julien Brellier, David Strihavka and Ian Murray all had their contracts scrapped, while Joe Lewis and Chris Brown were both sold. Roeder brought in Martin Taylor, Matty Pattison, Mo Camara, Ched Evans and Ryan Bertrand - and the results prove he has got it right.
Of the departures, all but a couple had links to Roeder's predecessor, Peter Grant, but Russell and his midfield partner Mark Fotheringham have proved exceptions to the rule - and among the highlights of the season to date.
Fotheringham came in a year ago and struggled in the second half of the season, with his hopes of a fresh start not helped by an ankle ligament injury in the summer.
But the Scot has settled in so well that he now wears the captain's armband.
Russell, too, had a so-so start at the club where he launched his career 10 seasons ago, having ended a four-year sabbatical at Stoke City.
With Tony Pulis, knowing Russell was keen to be closer to his London roots, made alternative plans, and that meant pre-season just about went out of the window.
Miss pre-season and it takes a while to catch up, as Russell explained.
"I started quietly because fitness was a big thing for me," he said. "Once you have that fitness going then you can work on other things, like touch and passing and so on and so forth and for me it is just maturity coming into my game.
"I look back and think to myself how on earth was I playing when I was so young. I lacked so much experience and knowledge of the game at that point in time. Obviously I might have had the ability and physical attributes, but I feel a lot more mature in myself and positive in the way I am playing and I always feel I am improving."
Russell has been dropped once this season - by Grant against Sheffield Wednesday - and missed one other game, against Sheffield United in December, through suspension.
Roeder and assistant manager Lee Clark have played no small part in Russell's emergence as a real midfield favourite at Carrow Road.
"The manager has been fantastic with me," Russell said. "He has helped me and Lee Clark obviously - he has given me pointers on how to improve and I am trying to put them into my game and hopefully I will be able to improve. I would like to still improve at the age I am now.
"They've taught me a lot of the stuff, about playing the ball forward a lot more, trying to find the feet of Dion (Dublin) or Ched (Evans) up front and that is a big factor because you can be victims of overplaying sometimes and playing from side to side and if we can penetrate deeper and quicker I think we can cut teams open."
City's next game is at Southampton tomorrow evening, when Roeder will be demanding that the strikers bring to an end the costly habit of spurning golden opportunities.
"We are definitely going to be looking forward rather than behind us, but the games we have drawn in recent weeks is kind of crazy," said Russell.
"We have had a lot of draws and if we had just turned those draws into three points we would have been far up the league - it would be interesting to see where we would have been.
"The performance at Bury can put doubts in players' minds and in fans' mind about whether or not we really are moving forward or not, especially against such weak opposition, but I think against Leicester we went out and proved that was a blip on the way of our progression of moving forward."