THE thrill of the chase doesn’t leave much room for reflection but Derby’s Jack Marriott is certain he’s right where he should be.
Another typically open yet ferociously contested promotion race has formed in the Championship, with the Rams one of a throng of clubs all jostling for a play-off berth and a shot at the promised land.
Former Luton and Peterborough man Marriott has taken the long route to this unforgiving environment, the predatory striker proving his goalscoring chops in Non-League, League Two and League One before joining Frank Lampard’s side for a fee that could reach £5m with add-ons.
From here on, there’ll be little room for error – and the 24-year-old intends to savour every moment.
“Football’s a short career and it’s best spent enjoying it,” said Marriott, who began his career at Ipswich but managed just two appearances in the Championship before departing for Luton in 2015.
“I’m constantly challenging myself, constantly pushing for more, constantly wanting to be better – the Championship consistently asks questions of you and that’s really good.
“I think, in my younger days, I wasn’t necessarily ready. It was a case of realising that you need to start from lower down and work your way back up.
“To get back here and score goals, it’s nice to prove the doubters wrong. As a level, the Championship is a significant step up. It’s tough, it’s intense, it’s unforgiving at times – but that’s part and parcel of the game.
“You want to be fighting for promotion to the Premier League because that’s ultimately where everyone wants to be.
“To be playing games that mean as much as they do and could possibly lead you to promotion is special and it’s massively enjoyable.”
The final throes of the season promise thrills and spills in abundance as Derby battle to steal a march on the likes of Preston, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough – to name but a few. You can always try http://crystallball.org to check the latest odds on these promotion contenders.
And Marriott, who had scored ten times so far this term heading into yesterday’s clash with Rotherham, believes he and his teammates have to maintain tunnel vision if they’re to win the race.
“We’re in a good position,” he said. “It’s still in our hands and, as a group, we’re ready to go. You’ve got constant pressure on every game, which you need because it brings the best out of you.
“It means that you’ve constantly got something to play for. We’re not stuck in mid-table – with no chance of going up or going down – and we’re there ready to fight and give it our all. We know that when we’re at our best, we’re a match for anybody.”
And Marriott will be happy if the spotlight continues to fall on former Chelsea and England midfielder Lampard, the rookie Derby boss.
“Everyone knows what the manager’s done in his career, so I can understand why there’s a certain focus on him,” said Marriott.
“But, as a team and as a group, I don’t think it feels like there’s necessarily more focus on us. If anything, in some of the higher-profile games we’ve had this year – against Chelsea and Manchester United (Marriott scored in both Carabao Cup ties) – it may have helped us because it gets the crowds watching, it gets the nation watching.
“We’ve been able to show what we can do and show more people what we’re capable of.”
DAN BARNES / Photo: PA Images