Both Chris Martin and the Scotland national team have barely looked back over the past 18 months.
Now the free-scoring Derby County forward is hoping to further boost his own burgeoning stock by playing a direct role in maintaining Scotland’s resurgence under Gordon Strachan.
Until summer 2013, Martin was an unwanted Norwich City player in danger of stagnating while beleaguered Scotland looked destined to remain in international football’s wilderness. Then everything changed dramatically for the Suffolk-born striker and the national team he would soon go on to represent.
After two consecutive campaigns of being punted out on loan to the likes of Swindon Town, Crystal Palace and Derby, the Rams saw enough in Martin’s short stint with them to offer him a permanent contract in time for the start of last season. It was a move that would allow him to finally show the form that he’d promised in his early years at Norwich.
Around the same time as Martin was pledging his future to Derby, Scotland were embarking on a remarkable upturn of their own. A totally unforeseen win over Croatia in Zagreb in June 2013 and the national team’s fortunes were effectively transformed.
In the intervening period, Martin has plundered 37 goals in 69 matches for Derby, while Scotland have improved immeasurably, to the point where, including the Zagreb game, they have now won seven of their last 13 matches and lost only to the heavyweights of England, Belgium and Germany in that time.
Over the past six months, Martin and Scotland’s upwardly-mobile paths have intertwined, with the 26-year-old earning a maiden call-up to Strachan’s squad for the May friendly against Nigeria in London and swiftly establishing himself as one of Scotland’s main strikers, along with Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith. With just four substitute outings to his name so far, Martin hasn’t had much of a chance to transfer his scintillating club form to the international circuit as yet. However, with Fletcher injured, he is likely to make his first start in dark blue against England, the nation of his birth, at Celtic Park tonight.
“Apart from missing out on promotion [in the play-offs] with Derby last year everything has been positive for the last couple of years for me,” said Martin. “I am hoping that it carries on for a long time. It has been a real good 18 months for Scotland as well and hopefully we can carry that feeling along. It would be massive for us to end 2014 by beating England and remember that for a few months before we play Gibraltar. We want to keep riding this wave we have built up.”
Martin knows tonight’s friendly against the Auld Enemy could have been something of a damp squib if Scotland had failed to beat Ireland on Friday night. Shaun Maloney’s second-half winner against Martin O’Neill’s side has kept the Scots in with a good shout of making it to Euro 2016 and ensured that optimism levels are sky high ahead of the visit from Roy Hodgson’s team.
“I think it’s important that we’re going into the England game on a high,” said Martin. “We don’t know what the reaction would have been if we’d lost to Ireland but the fact we won gives us that positivity and energy going into the England game. The fans will be on a high before the game as well, which will make it that extra bit special. It’s a bit strange that this game’s been on the back-burner because it is a massive occasion and really important game. But everyone understood that the Republic of Ireland game was the biggest one as it was a qualifier and there was a lot riding on it. That is why there is such a sense of relief that we won the game on Friday.”
Martin is relishing the chance of running out in front of another full house at Celtic Park tonight after being roused by the electrifying atmosphere of Friday night. “It was one of the best atmospheres I have probably played in front of,” he said. “When the crowd started to sing it made the hairs stand up a little. Especially for me as it was the first time I had experienced that at Celtic Park. It was great to be part of. Hopefully it is more of the same against England and hopefully it is the same result as well. We are looking forward to it a little more with the fact we have won the Ireland game.”
Although Scotland won on Friday, Martin is eager to banish the memory of his close-range miss which could have proved costly had Maloney not struck soon after. “Every striker misses chances and you are never going to go through a career without missing a few sitters,” he said. “I am used to that having missed a few before. You have to get it out of your system and hope that the next time a chance comes along you stick it away. I have been lucky enough recently that that has been the case. I felt a bit dejected when I was coming off but obviously with the win it kind of gets put back to the back of your mind.”
Martin, who speaks with a southern accent and has spent all his life in England, qualifies for Scotland through his father Gerry, who hails from Easterhouse in Glasgow. “It will be a little bit strange playing against England, but I am looking forward to it,” said Martin, who had 12 friends and family at Friday’s game and is likely to have similar support this evening.
It is clear from speaking to the Derby striker that he is thriving on being part of the most exciting Scotland squad for some time. “I was aware before I came into the squad, that there was a good chance it would happen,” Martin recalls. “There was the friendly against Poland in February and Gordon gave me a ring to say he wanted to call me up for that but the paperwork wasn’t able to go through and I didn’t get my clearance in time.
“I was aware it was coming and I was looking forward to it. I was itching to get involved. The first call-up came at a time of bitter disappointment a few days after the play-off final defeat and I was happy to get called in. It was good to have a game to focus the mind and take it off getting beaten at Wembley. It has been a good few months for me and hopefully it carries on.”