Russell Martin - Will to win was crucial
Norwich City’s winning mentality has been the key to bringing Premier League football back to the club – according to the man who has played every single minute of their Championship campaign.
Defender Russell Martin said the Canaries’ policy of going for the win at all times under manager Paul Lambert had been justified by back-to-back promotions.
Victory at Portsmouth completed the job on Monday night, with right-back Martin one of the outstanding performers in City’s 1-0 Fratton Park success.
“It’s the biggest night of my life so far, footballing or not. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t describe it yet. It’s not sunk in, really,” said Martin, after Simeon Jackson’s ninth goal in seven games had clinched City’s 10th away win of the season and booked their ticket to the top flight after a six-year absence.
It was before the trip to Leicester in early March, with the Canaries fourth in the Championship table, that Martin issued a “Let’s go for it!” message that summed up the mood at Colney.
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Ten games later, City have registered seven wins, two draws and just one defeat to guarantee second place.
“I don’t think we’ve stopped going for it,” said Martin. “People see that we go away from home and we try to win, we play at home and we try to win. Sometimes people say it’s a bit too open but it’s got us the results we wanted.
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“It’s been a massive effort. The lads are so tired, dead on their feet, but the effort’s been unbelievable. The gaffer has instilled belief in this group of players and the fans have had belief in us all season. As a club the togetherness this year has been like no other, really. You can’t describe it and if you put all those factors together, we’ve got what we deserve.
“Whenever there’s been a big game or a bit of pressure or people expected things of us, the lads have coped with it unbelievably well and a lot down of that is down to the gaffer and Ian Culverhouse and how they take a lot of pressure off the boys.
“I think whenever questions have been asked of us, we’ve answered them. That’s why we’ve found ourselves where we are.”
City were fourth in League One when Martin arrived from Peterborough, initially on loan, 18 months ago.
“I didn’t envisage this at all,” he admitted. “I expected us to get out of League One, which is still a tough division to get out of. I thought we might need a season to find our feet at this level, but I think we all had a belief that we kept quiet to ourselves that we had a little squeak, maybe in the play-offs or whatever, but as the season’s gone on, we’ve grown as a team and our belief’s grown, certainly.”
Martin said the fact most of City’s players had risen through the lower divisions had given them a hunger to play at the highest level.
“Maybe the fact that a few of us really needed to prove ourselves at this level helped because people like myself, Andrew Crofts and Simeon Jackson had to come up through the leagues having started there,” he said.
“There’s a great belief and desire and now we’ve achieved it. It’s what you dream of.”
Cardiff’s 3-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough in Monday’s early kick-off cleared the way for City to clinch promotion if they won.
“We were still in the hotel when the game was on so I saw all three goals go in. Crofty and me were in the room and couldn’t believe what was happening,” said Martin.
“But it didn’t affect us at all. We knew we had to win either way. Whether Cardiff won or lost, we needed to win and thankfully we’ve done it with a game to go, so it takes a bit of pressure off Saturday and everyone can enjoy it.”
The Canaries entertain Coventry in their final match but the celebrations began in style at Portsmouth.
“It’s been an unbelievable season and I think it deserved to be capped off at the end,” said Martin.
“We got absolutely mobbed, but it’s what it’s all about. If people can’t enjoy it now, then they never will.
“I had my brothers there, who stripped me of my shirts and shorts. I came off in just my pants in the end. But they were crying with pride, really.
“I spoke to a few of my family and I’ve got a lot of texts to go through and reply to. Everyone was watching back home, so we’ll all enjoy it.”