Norwich City boss Alex Neil left decision to play in Russell Martin’s hands
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil was not going to come between expectant father Russell Martin and the defender leading Norwich City into battle against Liverpool at Anfield.
Martin's dash back home for the birth of his son on the eve of the Canaries' Premier League test on Merseyside was hardly ideal preparation, but the captain toasted his new arrival with a memorable looping equaliser to cancel out Danny Ings' strike minutes after the interval.
Martin's attempt to play out from the back had been heavily punished by Alberto Moreno, who cushioned a ball into the English striker to slot past John Ruddy three minutes into the second period, but Martin's redemption proved fitting after his gruelling trip home to be with his family.
Neil revealed after his side's spirited display against the Reds that he had left the final decision with the Scottish international.
'Russ understands how important the group is for us and there was no way he would put himself forward if it would harm that group, and his performance showed he was more than ready,' said Neil.
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'I left it in Russell's hands about whether he was going to play or not. He is the captain of the club and would have said if he wasn't right, for the sake of the team. I think the adrenaline helped him through.
'Late Saturday night, it must have been about 11pm, his wife phoned to let him know the contractions had started and he needed to make his way down there to see the baby arrive. He left late, the baby was delivered about 10am (Sunday morning) and Russ was on the first flight back with the directors and owners and put in a real captain's performance for us. I think it shows how dedicated he is to the team, but I left the decision up to him.'
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Neil felt City deserved a rare point at the home of the five-time European champions. John Ruddy was at his defiant best, his performance capped by a superb stop to foil Philippe Coutinho after Norwich were left exposed on their own corner routine in a frenetic final quarter.
'I was pleased with the result and I thought we were brave when we needed to be and tried to put our foot on the ball and play,' said Neil.
'When you come to a place like this you have to ride your luck a bit, and we did, and we needed to rely on our keeper, who made some fine saves. It was a great save by John from Coutinho, but you have to rely on that and to be honest it was a bit of poor defending by us leading up to it. I think Robbie Brady, I don't know where he was going, and if he had done his task properly that chance probably wouldn't have happened.
'John came up trumps and we could have nicked it at the end with the Matt Jarvis chance. I thought the boys worked really, really hard and merited their point. We played well. Some teams sit in when they come to a place like this, which we had to do sometimes, but we offered a threat going forward too. The lads worked very hard and deserved something from the game and we're happy we have come away with a point.'
Neil opted to leave Wes Hoolahan out for the drive of Graham Dorrans in the middle of the pitch and Lewis Grabban's rehabilitation, following his recent suspension, moved up a gear with a late cameo. Grabban was preferred to Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty on the bench.
'I think Lewis knows exactly what I want from my number nine, in terms of the tasks he is asked to do within the game,' said Neil. 'It was a difficult decision with Kyle to leave him out and he is a bit unfortunate, but I have to make the best decisions for the club to get us a result and Lewis contributed when he came on, he took that ball in and linked it.'