Russell Martin - We feel back to our best
Michael Bailey Russell Martin believes Norwich City are getting back to their best form with perfect timing as they prepare for three games that could define their season.
Russell Martin believes Norwich City are getting back to their best form with perfect timing as they prepare for three games that could define their season.
The Canaries face a trio of promotion rivals in three weekends, with trips to play-off chasers Huddersfield and Swindon leading up to a mouth-watering home clash with Leeds United on March 27.
February was a mixed month for Paul Lambert's side - although three wins, two defeats and the occasional below par performances did little to weaken Norwich's position at the top of League One.
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And with the 3-0 win over Yeovil on Saturday, Martin feels City have returned to the levels they set earlier in the season.
“Saturday was enjoyable because we really felt back to our best,” said the City right-back.
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“We played well last week at Oldham and we've been slowly getting it back to the level we know we can set, but we've ground out results before while not playing at our best.
“We've kept nice and solid, playing the expansive football that we can, so it's nice to get a clean sheet, score a few goals and prove to people we are more than up for the challenge.”
City's automatic promotion rivals have been unable to keep pace with Lambert's charges, who have won 23 times in 32 outings since mid-August and are threatening a host of long-standing club records.
The next three weeks will also see Leeds, Colchester and Swindon complete their games in hand on the League One leaders - which will give a true reflection of the promotion picture come April - but Martin maintains the Canaries' focus will be solely on the teams put in front of them.
“It's good the results have gone for us but we won't take too much note of them because we have got three massive ones now and we can dictate our future ourselves,” he said. “You don't need any extra motivation for those games at all.
“Going to places like Oldham, and Southend who came here, they are fighting for their lives in this league, so they are playing for as much as Leeds, Huddersfield and ourselves are.
“We've got good results against them, and a great result against Yeovil takes us full of confidence going into these three big games. Everyone wants to play in the big games and I'm sure the fans will enjoy them.”
The atmospheres at the Galpharm and County Ground will be electric - typical of meetings between promotion contenders in the last quarter of a season - while Carrow Road promises to be red hot for the visit of Leeds.
Martin said: “Definitely, the atmospheres will be special because it means so much to people. They've worked 35 games now, the lads have been at it every week and you get so close to realising, to achieving what you want.
“That is when people start feeling pressure, but the gaffer takes it all off us and the fans are brilliant - they get behind us. So we're not feeling any pressure at the minute.
“We're top of the league and we've earned the right to be there. Now we've got earn the right to stay there.”
Lambert will welcome back Darel Russell to the fold after he completed a three-match suspension on Saturday for his dismissal against Southampton, but with Norwich picking up maximum points in the midfielder's absence he may not make an immediate return.
Either way, Martin expects the City manager to continue taking the pressure off his players in a way that has impressed the defender.
“He tells us just to go out and play, have the freedom to play and play the way we want to play - he is brilliant at that, brilliant at the man management side,” said Martin. “He just goes out and tells us to play and not worry about anyone else's opinion but his.
“We all know our jobs and that's a great thing in a team, to just know exactly what you've got to do and the lads are doing it.
“We've come through these games without Rusty and picked up good results. He's been a massive player for us so it shows the strength in depth we have got.
“The strength in the squad is brilliant, confidence is fantastic. It's up to the manager who plays in these next games, but I'm sure everyone will be waiting and ready and it will be interesting to see what we do.”
It is a year and six days since Martin last scored - the winner in Peterborough's 3-2 victory at Leyton Orient - but despite coming close to his first City goal in recent weeks, he is happy to wait.
He said: “I should have had a couple already by now. I should have scored last week. Hopefully it will get there but I'm a defender first and foremost and we kept a clean sheet, so I'm happy.”