Chris Goreham: Russell Martin is fully aware of agony Norwich City put fans through
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There is a running joke amongst Norwich City supporters about Russell Martin rallying cries.
When there's a run of poor results or a heart breaking defeat in a big game he is most often the man who stands in front of the cameras and microphones to reassure supporters that the players are hurting just as much as them and that they will do all they can to put things right.
I have always admired Russell for his preparedness to front up when the going gets tough. It's easy to mock but what else is he supposed to say in such situations? There is a good argument that footballers are paid more than enough to endure an uncomfortable five minutes speaking publicly about a match they have just lost but I have had enough interview requests politely spurned over the years to know that many don't consider explaining a bad defeat to be part of their professional duty.
Martin has always taken the Norwich City captain's armband seriously enough to know that it can't all be lifting trophies at Wembley Stadium.
It was his post-match interview at Brighton that best summed up the gravity of that 5-0 defeat.
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To have Russell Martin, a man so skilled at finding the right words to tread that tightrope between appeasing supporters and not blowing the confidence of his dressing room, look me in the eye and tell me that some of his team-mates 'gave up' in that game was the most damning indictment imaginable.
I have spoken to Martin before and after games on many occasions since he signed up to ride on the yellow and green roller-coaster in 2009 but I have never seen him anywhere near as despondent or downright angry as he was on Saturday.
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Sound thrashings on the road are nothing new to City's loyal travelling fans but this Hughton humiliation was on a different scale. This wasn't a Suarez virtuoso at Anfield or being the unfortunate billionaire's playthings at The Etihad, this was Brighton and Hove Albion. They may be one of the best The Championship has to offer but there is no way that a squad like the one Norwich City has at the moment, good enough to be top of the league just 11 days earlier, should be capitulating to the tune of 5-0 at the hands of Brighton.
It was 1-0 with an hour played. The final half hour was the worst capitulation since that infamous 7-1 hammering at the hands of Colchester United seven years ago. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the undoubted strength of City's squad. We saw that again on Saturday when Robbie Brady, a player being talked about in terms of a big-money Premier League transfer as recently as the summer, could not get in the starting line-up even with Jonny Howson sidelined by injury.
In the same article I mentioned that any cautious optimism being afforded by City fans came with the caveat that the team needed to be prepared to roll their sleeves up, work hard and remember they do not have any divine right to return to the Premier League without the necessary elbow grease being applied.
It's beginning to look like that big 'if' is actually about the size of a rampaging Glenn Murray who was gifted a hat-trick by a hapless Norwich side. The only explanation for some of that defending is that they had realised that no-one had remembered to have a leaving collection for Chris Hughton when he departed Carrow Road in 2014 and that only a sarcastically huge belated gift could save face now.
There are also Glenn Murray sized question marks about the mental strength of this Norwich City squad and, for the first time, the murmurings about Alex Neil's capabilities are growing. Here is a manager roundly applauded by his club's supporters after relegation in May.
If he cannot stop the rot and find a way of turning potential into professionalism from his players very quickly then Russell Martin's team-mates may not be the only ones who'll start being accused of 'giving up' on things.
It needs more than a rallying cry to restore the belief for supporters now.
Promotion back to the Premier League feels an awful long way away to even the most optimistic City fan after that south coast surrender on Saturday.
The things you learn in the gents...
That penalty shoot-out defeat at Leeds United last Tuesday seems an awful long time ago after what happened at Brighton but in an attempt to lift the mood I thought I might share an experience from half-time in the gents at Elland Road.
Don't worry, this isn't going where you think it might be.
At away games, the nearest rest room to the press box tends to be populated by home supporters. I don't wear anything that would identify me as a Norwich City fan to games, being professional and all that, so I often feel like a spy as I stand and listen to what fans of other teams really think about the Canaries.
Norwich had just dominated the first half but gone in drawing at 1-1. In the loo queue one Leeds fan confided in his friend 'That Brady's too good for us'. His mate replied in a beautiful broad Yorkshire accent that conjured images of Geoffrey Boycott himself in full rant mood during an England batting collapse on Test Match Special. He proffered: 'If we finish above these, thar shall go up.'
It's Leeds again on Saturday, this time at Carrow Road, for a Championship clash that has taken on unimaginable extra significance in the wake of the Brighton debacle. If it's tense at half-time, and it is bound to be so, I might head for the toilets in the away end in search of overhearing a morale-boosting conversation.
But one thing is for sure. If Norwich City make a habit of performing like they did on Saturday, 'thar shall' definitely not be going up this season.