DERBY striker Chris Martin is settled. And when he’s settled he’s at his best – as Championship defenders are finding to their cost this season.
The Rams summer signing had some permanence at Norwich, but his career there, which at one point promised so much, finished with a whimper.
The 25-year-old ended his 14-year association with the Canaries, where he had been a key figure in their rise back from League One to the Premier League, in September 2012.
The parting of the ways has gone much better for Martin. He’s been prominent in the Rams revival under Steve McClaren and if the current form of both clubs continues there’s a fair chance he will be passing his former employers next summer.
“I’d love to play in the Premier League with Derby, that’s what I came here to do as I never really got a fair crack at it with Norwich,” said Martin, who scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Blackpool yesterday, which took his tally for the season to 13 goals.
“I played in a few games early on after promotion but we weren’t winning and Paul Lambert changed things and I never got another look in.
“That hurt me a bit because I’d played a part in the teams that had got them promoted in successive seasons.
“I want to put that right with Derby. It’s an absolutely fantastic place to play football and everything is geared for the top level.
“Norwich are a big club and as a local lad to play for them was brilliant, but with the history of this club, what they’ve won and the players that have played here, it’s arguably bigger.
“From the moment I came on loan last season they made me feel wanted, which was really important.
“I’d had a few loans to get first-team football but it’s no good when you’ve got a young family. Being on loan there’s no certainty for anyone but at least [Norwich manager] Chris Hughton was good enough to say last year he wouldn’t be keeping me on and I knew where I stood.
“When Derby made the offer for me to come here permanently it was one I was never going to turn down.
“I’ve settled into a lovely area in Holbrook and my partner (Emma) and kids (five-month old daughter Tia and son Chris Junior) love it here. And the football isn’t going too badly either.”
Martin is obviously a master of the understatement when you look at the Rams recent record.
Since the shock sacking of Nigel Clough on September 28, County have flown up the table and into promotion contention.
Derby have scored in every game under McClaren, with Martin firing six in his last five outings, including his first treble in League football against Paul Ince’s Seasiders yesterday.
He’s well on the way to becoming the first Rams player to top 20 goals since Dean Sturridge in the 1995-96 season, but Martin insists McClaren hasn’t made dramatic changes.
“From the outside you might think lots have changed with the results we’ve been having but Steve hasn’t changed a lot,” says Martin. “We’ve gone to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 system that seems to suit the players we have here and, as the central striker, in that I’m delighted with the way things are going for me and the team. The lads have just bought into what Steve is trying to do.
“But that’s about it really. The previous manager has to take a lot of credit for the group that he got together and Steve has built on that. The wins are coming and long may that continue. There’s a buzz about the place, the crowds are coming back and I’d like to think this is just the start of things.
“I came here to play at the top level and there’s no reason why we can’t achieve that this season.”
A packed festive period will be a test of Derby’s mettle but key players Jeff Hendrick and fellow striker Johnny Russell are now back fit after lengthy spells on the injured list.
Long-term absentees Mark O’Brien and club captain Shaun Barker, who hasn’t played since March 2012, are also on their way back to fitness.
“It’s great to see the players we’ve got coming back and they will only add to our quality,” added Martin.
“In this division it’s absolutely vital that you have competition for places to keep players at it. At Norwich we had virtually two players for every position and that was key for us – everyone was pushing for that starting place.
“Even in training it’s important to produce the goods, if you don’t you won’t be in the team as there are players ready to step straight in.
“No-one wants to be sat on the bench watching. You’ve got to keep performing and that’s what we’re all desperate to do.”
A bumper haul of points in the coming weeks will keep them in the pack, although events off the pitch in January will also be key for McClaren.
That’s when the transfer window opens again and there are sure to be offers for prized asset Will Hughes.
The diminutive 18-year-old midfielder has been linked with virtually all of the top clubs – with Liverpool thought to be leading the race – in England and in Europe.
That’s not a shock to Martin. “Will is an absolutely wonderful talent,” the striker added. “His maturity on the pitch and knowledge of the game for someone so young is the most impressive thing to me.
“He knows when to keep the ball, when to pass, when to shoot…and that’s not always the case with young players coming through.
“It’s fantastic that he’s our player and I hope we can keep him as long as possible. When he plays in the Premier League it would be great if it was in a Derby shirt.”