Russell set to join 200 club

David Cuffley Darel Russell is poised to reach a personal double century with Norwich City - convinced that football is a more professional game than when he made his debut 10 years ago.

David Cuffley

Darel Russell is poised to reach a personal double century with Norwich City - convinced that football is a more professional game than when he made his debut 10 years ago.

The 27-year-old midfielder will make his 200th senior appearance for the Canaries if he plays against Barnsley in Saturday's game at Oakwell.

And he believes the standard in the Championship is much higher than when he first appeared in what was then called Nationwide League Division One when he was just 17.

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He said: “I think with football in general it's a lot more professional. I remember the old days here with Bryan Gunn and Mike Milligan and the game wasn't quite as serious.

“Now the game is more of a business, fitness has moved on, diets have moved on and the game has progressed and really speeded up.

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“The quality in the Championship is unbelievable in comparison to 10 years ago.”

Russell made his debut for City as a substitute in a 1-0 win at Reading on the last day of the 1997-98 season, and recalls the words of the club's former youth development officer and chief executive as his career began to take off.

“I remember Gordon Bennett many years ago saying to me that once you've played 50 games, you say you can make it as a professional,” said Russell. “So to make it 200 games at one club is a good achievement. I didn't realise that was the case but I'm looking forward to it now. I hope I can mark it with a goal.”

Russell's long spell with City was split in two by four years at Stoke, but since his return in the summer of 2007, he has missed only seven first-team games, and six of those were through suspension.

And he is confident the after-effects of a double hernia operation will not hinder his progress in Glenn Roeder's team. He played in the 2-1 win at Plymouth just 10 days after surgery in Germany and Saturday's 1-0 victory over Sheffield United was his third full outing in eight days, a remarkable recovery.

“It's pretty sore this week,” he admitted. “I've just been speaking with the physio about it. But we're training as normal at this minute in time and I'll just keep plugging away. It's more of a strengthening programme that I've got to go on but they've been fantastic with me and I'll be fine.

“I think there has been lot of adrenalin where you get the first match and they're all so close together, and you kind of get through it. As this week's slowed down a little bit, I've felt it a little bit but I should be fine for the weekend.

“When you're part of the squad and winning games as well, it makes you feel good. It gives you a sense of confidence and helps the team with confidence. While we're doing well, you want to be part of things.”

Russell has also had to adjust to his role as part midfielder, part striker, with goals in the home games against Blackpool and Birmingham taking his all-time tally for City to 16.

“It is difficult because you want to get continuity in one position but I feel, with the injury as well, I've managed to get by. I think my experience has shown that I've been able to deal with both positions fairly competently. I'd like to settle in a position and produce some good performances but I don't think I've had a problem dealing with it.”

Beating Sheffield United had given City a huge lift, he said, and their next two opponents, Barnsley and Southampton, are currently in the bottom three.

“It was massive to get those three points. We've now got a win away, a win at home and we need to build on those,” said Russell. “We've got ourselves in the top half of the table. It was great to look at the table and see us there, whereas a week or so ago we were languishing near the bottom.

“I've always said that when we play the better teams we seem to play better ourselves and get good results. I think it's going to be a test for us against teams down the bottom. People almost expect us to win and it's a different pressure we've got to deal with and we've got to deliver.”

He backs his manager's assertion that City are capable of challenging for a top six place.

“No one starts the season without the play-offs in mind,” said Russell. “Maybe some of the lower teams might think more of survival but we're almost certainly a team that wants to be pushing on and looking towards the Premier League.”

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