Martin’s calm prepares Norwich for battle ahead

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Mark Runnacles/Getty ImagesRussell Martin: The natural inheritor of Grant Holt's captain's armband.

Should Russell Martin's performance in a pivotal Premier League contest against Reading match his display in front of the assembled media this week, then the only imponderable is the margin of victory.

The intelligent, composed, well-spoken Scottish international projected a level of serenity out of step with the gathering storm clouds surrounding the Canaries.

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City's inability to build on the rich legacy of a 10-game club record unbeaten Premier League run has left them increasingly susceptible to the vagaries and the turbulence below. Chris Hughton's men still have a four point buffer to third-from-bottom Wigan with five league games left to navigate. The Canaries can shape their own destiny rather than rely on favours from stuttering rivals, but City's heartbreaking defeat at Arsenal last weekend -- where they led approaching the final four minutes of normal time -- did little to alleviate the mounting tension or the pressure.

This season of all seasons in the Premier League it is imperative the Canaries retain their cherished top flight status to access the vast sums from fresh broadcast deals in the summer. But it has been a good week in Norfolk. The club's young guns overcame the adversity of having a man sent off to reach Norwich's first FA Youth Cup final since 1983. Hughton's entire senior squad were in attendance at Carrow Road to watch the penalty shootout drama unfold after the two-legged tie against Nottingham Forest's youngsters ended 1-1.

Martin appeared intent on riding that wave of euphoria when he produced a remarkably polished display at the club's pre-Reading press call. You would expect the sound bites to be upbeat; for those inside the camp to have insulated themselves from the starkness of their plight should Reading earn a first Premier League win since February 2 this weekend. But Martin's manner was extraordinary. You actually left his company doubting whether City were in real peril; whether the current league table somehow lied.

The 27-year-old is not only convinced his club will survive to seal a third consecutive season of Premier League football, he intimated Norwich were not in a relegation battle as he pointed out City's relative success in not having spent long periods in the bottom three since a brief early season flirtation. Struggling Reading's visit was just one more in the timeline for Martin -- not, as it has predictably been portrayed elsewhere, as the biggest game of this or any other season for the Canaries.

One can only hope Martin's mood is reflective of Hughton's entire squad. Norwich need equal amounts of positive intent from the very first whistle. Swansea at home last time out were able to slip smoothly into their passing stride to dominate the opening 30 minutes, which served only to trigger waves of unease on the terraces. Martin acknowledged that had proved a tense afternoon for all concerned, but his logic was sound again as he highlighted just what a season of stellar success Michael Laudrup had presided over in Wales.

Reading and their new manager Nigel Adkins find themselves propping up the rest for a reason. They do not have better players than Norwich. They are not a better side than Norwich. But when the talking stops, Martin and his cohorts have to emphatically prove that is indeed the case.

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