Paddy Davitt Norwich City defender Russell Martin admits the pre-season sparring is rapidly drawing to a close ahead of today's opening Carrow Road friendly against Premiership giants Newcastle.

Paddy Davitt

Norwich City defender Russell Martin admits the pre-season sparring is rapidly drawing to a close ahead of today's opening Carrow Road friendly against Premiership giants Newcastle. (3pm)

Martin is well aware competition for a Championship starting spot against Watford on August 6 is set to intensify with home tests against the Geordies and Everton sandwiched around a midweek trip to Lincoln.

City tuned up for the Magpies with low key run outs at Stevenage and Dagenham earlier this week - but Paul Lambert's squad know they have to impress in the countdown to the league kick off.

“Newcastle is a massive, massive club and one we are looking forward to,” said Martin. “It's a game where we will have to keep the ball a lot better than we have done because if you don't have it they are going to keep it a lot better than the teams, no disrespect, we have played so far.

“Newcastle is a Premier League side so we know we would have to work a lot harder to get the ball back but the boys' fitness is picking up all over the place. It has been a tough couple of weeks but now is the time to show you are worth a place in the side as a starter. Every position has competition for places with the new signings that have come in. It's only good, it's healthy and makes everyone step up to the plate.”

Martin concedes the highly anticipated return of City players' player-of-the-year Fraser Forster today should inject some fun into the serious business of Lambert's pre-season build-up.

“I spoke to him the other day and he is looking forward to coming back,” said Martin. “He was disappointed with Newcastle that it didn't work out and that he couldn't come back here in the end but I'm sure when he comes back on Saturday we'll have a chat, the lads will give him some abuse, and hopefully stick one or two past him.

“He was brilliant last year and the general consensus is he is one of the lads who will go on to be a top, top keeper. We were lucky to have him but he was great for us and we were great for him but we move on and big John (Ruddy) has come in and done very well. He has got that similar presence and size and has made a couple of great saves in pre-season and he kicks it well. The lads feel comfortable playing in front of him.”

Martin is confident City's squad will have benefited from two competitive run outs at Stevenage and Dagenham after a gruelling week long German training camp.

“Dagenham was always going to be that type of game,” he said. “You know that they are good at what they do and they didn't get promoted for no reason last year. They are very direct and hard to play against - in your face, and that is the way they have achieved their success over the last couple of years.

“Germany was hard, very hard, but that is what you expect in pre-season. It was a tough week and we put in some great work over there and this week it hasn't been easy since we got back. We have trained every day at a good tempo and then games on Tuesday and Thursday. We've nearly broke the back of pre-season now and we are coming up to an important time where we need to start getting the other side of it right. Dagenham was another exercise, it was fitness for the lads and everyone has played 90 minutes in some capacity - some even more. You never want to lose a game but results matter in a couple of weeks.”

Martin has more reason than most to prove he can cut it at Championship level after featuring briefly at the start of Peterborough's campaign last season.

“It wasn't really for footballing reasons at Peterborough that I didn't play when we went up,” he said. “It was things outside my control, so it's a chance for me to prove myself. I played ten games or so at that level and felt by the end of that spell I proved I could cope.

“Everyone wants to do it here because even the experienced lads may not have played as many games in this league as they would have liked. The squad is really hungry and after last year we have momentum. We are not used to losing games and, even at Dagenham, we didn't like losing the game. It's going to be quite unusual to start on a Friday night (against Watford). You are used to playing in the boiling hot sun that first game so it will be a bit cooler and an evening atmosphere at Carrow Road is always special. It's massively important to get off to a good start and hopefully the fans can carry us on like they did last year.”