Barnsley FC's Josh Martin on why he is thankful to rival managers after tough spell at Norwich

JOSH MARTIN has a lot to thank Michael Duff and Liam Manning for.

Barnsley head coach Duff – whose side host Manning’s MK Dons side on Saturday - is currently playing an important role in Martin’s development as a player and a person at the key age of 21.

Regardless of the fact that an earlier loan stint at MK in the first half of last season did not pan out in the way he hoped, Manning’s input was not lost on him.

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Martin returned to his parent club Norwich City in January and was loaned back out to Doncaster Rovers to boost his game-time levels.

Barnsley's Josh Martin (right) and Newcastle's Jay Turner-Cook challenge for the ball in the EFL Trophy game earlier this autumn. Picture Bruce Rollinson.Barnsley's Josh Martin (right) and Newcastle's Jay Turner-Cook challenge for the ball in the EFL Trophy game earlier this autumn. Picture Bruce Rollinson.
Barnsley's Josh Martin (right) and Newcastle's Jay Turner-Cook challenge for the ball in the EFL Trophy game earlier this autumn. Picture Bruce Rollinson.

The Luton-born player played 20 times for Rovers in the second half of 2021-22, having appeared just five times for MK before that.

Both Manning and Duff are good football people who have told Martin what he needed to hear.

It has not always been the way in his career to date. At the start, it was perhaps more of a case of what he wanted to hear from others.

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Handed a Premier League debut at 18 and a new contract by Norwich after bursting onto the scene late on in 2019-20, Martin felt pretty untouchable in the summer of 2020.

The midfielder, whose career started in Arsenal's academy, admitted in a previous interview that he felt like he was a 'top dog' when he moved to Carrow Road.

It may have started well with the Canaries, but he soon got a reality check after thinking he’d cracked it.

A 'kick up the a*** as he put it. His last Norwich league appearance was on Boxing Day 2021.

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Some searing honesty from the likes of Manning and Duff has also helped since. Thankfully, time is also still on his side to get his career moving again.

On a season-long loan at Barnsley, who have an option to make the deal permanent, Martin said: “There's a saying; truth hurts, lies kill. That is the main thing.

"If someone tells me the truth, it might hurt. But you can go home, look in the mirror and ask yourself the question 'Do I need to improve on that'.

"If, most of the time, you answer 'yes', then you can take steps to improve it.

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"It was tough for me as a young player to come to grips with not playing and being able to perform and showcase myself. I have a lot of respect for Liam and he was the one who said to me 'you just need to go and play'. I took a lot from him.

"There's a lot of room for improvement, but I am learning each day at Barnsley. It's a battle, no matter who you are, you are always learning.

"You can speak to him (Duff) when you want and he’ll give you an honest opinion. That's so important and I’ve a lot of respect for him."

Duff prizes mentality as much as talent, with the former being every bit as important in his world.

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Ahead of the start of the World Cup, he is crystal-clear in that view as well. The global event will showcase not just the best players, but the strongest characters in his eyes.

"With the top ones, it's mentality. There's loads of good footballers in the world. But the ones that go right to the top always have the best mentality," Duff sagely observed.

Barnsley players training on a wet and dank November day is a world away from the glare of the spotlight and the heat of Qatar that England's finest are experiencing, with the Reds’ reality a lot different to the experiences of Harry Kane and co.

Kane and a number of his team-mates have, in fairness, done some hard yards in the lower divisions and earned their stripes.

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After a sound enough first three-and-half months of the campaign, Martin and his Barnsley team-mates are now appearing the 'grind' of the season as Duff puts it.

It’s the time of season which sorts out the men from the boys metaphorically and quite often, the contenders from the wanabees.

His Reds side, just a point outside of the top six in League One, head into Saturday's game on the back of three straight wins in all competitions following a mini-dip.

Form is decent, league position is good and Duff’s options are handy, but a key time in the campaign now awaits and he is wanting to see who steps up to the plate consistently.

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Duff continued: "You are turning to the grind now - November, December, January. People always talk about the hard yards. It isn't always shorts and T-shirt and you can walk through things.

"It is our (coaches) job as well. We can't have the lads stood around, freezing. It's getting the sessions lively and getting them in and out. You can do a lot more classroom work as well as the pitches will start turning.

"The dark nights are here and the weather has turned and the pitches won't be as perfect as what they were. It's finding a way to win games.

"Pretty much every pitch we have played on so far has been pretty perfect. I think you'll find in the next six weeks, that might change.

"That's a mentality and you have got to be able to adapt and evolve."That word mentality again. It is never far away from the thoughts and utterances of Duff.