LIVE: The Sky Bet Football League Play-Offs 2014
By Tony Leighton
Derby County striker Chris Martin will step into Thursday evening's first leg of his team's Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final against Brighton and Hove Albion hoping for the same success that he enjoyed at the Amex Stadium early on in the season.
Former Norwich City player Martin hit both Rams goals in a 2-1 August win and, though he did not bag the goal that completed the double over the Seagulls with a 1-0 home win in January, he has the knack of scoring against them.
"It's a strange one with a striker," he said, "there are certain teams that you seem to score more against and some you can't break your duck against. I scored against them for Norwich as well, so hopefully that's a good omen.
"I'll take confidence from the fact that I can score against them, but every single game is different. We've got momentum going into it, though - we're unbeaten in six games to end the season and we won five of them, so we're confident."
Derby's end of season run was almost matched by Brighton, who won four and drew two of their final six outings. So despite the Rams finishing three places and 13 points above the Seagulls, a close two-leg Semi-Final may be in prospect.
Martin said: "It will be tough and a little bit cat and mouse. I think that tactically it will be an interesting contest. Brighton like to try and play in the right manner, as we do, getting the ball down and playing it out from the back.
"But obviously it's also about the desire and the will to win, and I think we've had that in abundance this season. We always knew we were a good side, but it was always about putting it together and hard work on the pitch.
"I don't think many people would have had us down as getting to third in the league. We've proved a few people wrong by doing that, and I think we've done it in the right manner. Now we're looking at a great opportunity for us."
The opportunity for Martin and his colleagues is to take Derby up to the Premier League for the first time in seven seasons, while Brighton have not tasted life in the top flight since their relegation at the end of the 1982/83 campaign.
If the Rams make it there could be an ironic twist for Martin. Norwich, where he began his career and spent seven years as a professional before joining Derby, look odds-on for relegation from the Premier League so he would by-pass them.
"I've got a lot of affection for the club," he said, "and I know a lot of people who work there, so I'm disappointed for them. But if they go down I think they have the resources to bounce back, so hopefully they would do that."
Though he spares a thought for Norwich, who he left for Derby last summer after a three-month loan at the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Martin's focus is totally on the Rams and their bid to reach Wembley and then win the Play-Off Final.
They were automatic promotion contenders at one stage but had to settle for third place, finishing with 85 points - that's eight points short of second in the table Burnley and 17 points below champions Leicester City.
"We've not been quite good enough to get there automatically," conceded Martin, 25, "but full credit to Leicester and Burnley. But we've got the next best thing with the Play-Offs - and we're after that big prize at the end of them."
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