Grant Holt’s absence key as Norwich City’s great run ends at West Brom

Robert Snodgrass (hidden) opens the scoring from a free-kick at West Brom. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Robert Snodgrass (hidden) opens the scoring from a free-kick at West Brom. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

Monday, December 24, 2012
9:55 AM

There was a fatalistic inevitability about Norwich City’s Premier League defeat at West Brom.

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Shorn of their skipper and talisman through injury, City surrendered their fabulous unbeaten record as the rain swept unrelentingly across the Hawthorns on a drab, dreary winter’s day in the Black Country.

It wasn’t quite the end of the world. It just felt like it. But it had to happen sometime and West Brom was arguably the perfect place. The Baggies have bucked the trend, along with Chris Hughton’s squad this season, until defeat at Swansea triggered a shock to the system which effectively took until Romelu Lukaku rose imperiously above Javier Garrido in the game’s defining act to finally recover from.

Steve Clarke’s men could not buy a win for three consecutive Premier League games before West Ham refused to buckle the previous weekend. Norwich’s immediate task will not be any easier over the remaining festive fixtures, with the Hammers on New Year’s Day the conclusion to a three-part trilogy that brings the European champions and the Premier League champions to Carrow Road.

But you can take many things from a 10-match unbeaten league run forged on common themes. One was the courage in adversity.

City had to repel sporadic onslaughts from Arsenal, Stoke and Manchester United at home before prevailing. At Everton and Southampton they came from behind. At Swansea they defied the rampant hosts. At West Brom they looked to have quelled Albion’s best efforts until Lukaku’s towering header. It was enough to separate the sides on a day when the similarities between the clubs were never more apparent.

Albion and Norwich are a mirror image in so many ways. Not just in their commitment to sustainability in the face of competing rivals who operate on the benevolence of billionaires. Not just in their choice of manager and the pragmatic approach to achieving Premier League success, but on every measure the whole equates to more than the sum of the parts.

In Lukaku they have borrowed a high-class talented, if inconsistent, teenage striker, around which Clarke opted against the Canaries for the pace of Peter Odemwingie, the trickery of Zoltan Gera and the guile of James Morrison. Shane Long was kept in reserve until Clarke unleashed City’s tormentor for the final half an hour.

Hughton could be forgiven for casting an envious glance or two. City simply do not possess a similar richness to their attacking resources. Holt’s workload during Norwich’s two months of consistently assured top flight football was always likely to take a toll at some point.

Steve Morison appears the only similar alternative should Hughton wish to retain the counter-attacking system which has brought so much success. Gareth McAuley denied Morison his one clear-cut chance to test Ben Foster in the second period when Alex Tettey had broken up play and slid an inviting pass into the feet of the Welsh international. Morison’s shift was laced with frustration.

Simeon Jackson offers a different dimension, Harry Kane is a youthful understudy on the comeback trail himself after foot surgery – but neither can operate in Holt’s lone front-running role to quite the same seamless degree.

Take Holt out of this Norwich side and it is not simply the latent goal potential you miss, a commodity which by Hughton’s own admission has had to be sacrificed to an extent to kick start City’s Premier League revival, but also the ripples of disruption to his team-mates.

Wes Hoolahan’s influence wanes without the telepathic understanding he has developed alongside Holt from the start of this fantastic journey from League One. Holt has been branded an old-fashioned centre forward on numerous occasions, but he is so much more. The City Hall of Famer is an intelligent link-man who can operate just as effectively with his back to goal as powering on to service inside opposition penalty areas.

He is also experienced enough to buy time when Norwich need a pressure-release, to coax and cajole fouls from officials to compensate for the numerical disadvantage when he has to occupy multiple markers.

With Holt and Hoolahan in tandem, City have a better chance of unlocking the creative potential of Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass.

The Scot was Norwich’s stand out performer at the Hawthorns, but the visitors’ largely carried a minimal threat in open play.

Foster’s spill from Snodgrass’ sublime free-kick triggered a response that typified the character in Clarke’s ranks. Albion pressed again with renewed urgency, but Hughton may have had a strong case over the incorrect award of a corner from which Mark Bunn could only paw Jonas Olsson’s initial header against his bar before Gera reacted sharply.

Hughton offered no defence in mitigation for Bunn, who had to fight his way around Goran Popov on the goal line. Neither would the keeper himself, you suspect, after his comments during the build up about the physical nature of such challenges in the English game.

Coming on the cusp of half-time Albion may have expected to begin the second stanza on the front foot, but it was Norwich dictating the tempo.

Morison’s indecision contrasted sharply to his fearsome hit at the Emirates towards the end of last season when put through in similar circumstances. The home fans were already exhibiting signs of impatience. Given their poor run of form it felt a pivotal moment.

Norwich had to defend the near post with growing regularity as Albion attempted to suck men infield and raid down the flanks. Michael Turner and Sebastien Bassong displayed cool assurance as balls flashed across Bunn’s box.

Which made the winner all the more galling when it did arrive. Lukaku lost his minders to challenge Garrido in an aerial mis-match that had only one outcome. Clarke withdrew his match-winner soon after for the defensive qualities of Gabriel Tamas.

Such pragmatism was almost his undoing with first Turner, then Russell Martin and finally Bradley Johnson glancing headers wide from the excellent Snodgrass. Johnson’s anguish was clear to see in the final act of the game.

Defeats clearly come with the territory, yet this still felt a little surreal – which is a testament to the longevity of City’s unbeaten surge.

But just like West Brom, Norwich will bounce back.

9 comments

  • My very being tells me that it`s very likely that Holt`s presence would have made a huge difference! Morison gave them absolutely nothing to worry about. Wessi ran himself into the ground trying to compensate and Tettey had a rare off-day. Perhaps he missed Wonderhorse too? Bunn needs to cure his Achilles Tendency & get some wings on his heels. OTBC.

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    Mad Brewer

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • Paper reports Vanilla boss PL interested in Steve Morison from Norwich. Can it be true

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    wivenhoebudgie

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • Bent for Morison anyone?

    Report this comment

    Sumo27

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • And as PL and NCFC have come to an arrangement and are no longer suing each other they can have an amicable chat about Mr Morison. Have Villa got any strikers they dont want !!?

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    wivenhoebudgie

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • I don't think Holt not being would have made the difference, Bunn was fouled for the first goal, and it looked like Hughton instructed them to hold on to the lead by trying to defend it. Taking Wessi off took away any reall attacking ambition we had, and as usual the subs weren't given enough time. Jackson on earlier would have meant their defenders would have had to stay back. They had an easy afternoon as Morison isn't that speedy, they could afford to move forward leaving one man on him

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    gordon52

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • Chances are, had he been on the field, Holty would`ve been back helping his defence defend that late goal. Bit more of a challenge to Lukaku than the totally exposed Garrido could hope to manage. In a nutshell, Holt is the equivalent of two players. They broke the mould after they made him! OTBC. IHWT.

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    Mad Brewer

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • Looking at Hoots` current starting line-up there are only 2 LAM80 signings left in it - Johnno & Pilks (top men). 7 of Hoots` own. Then the enduring dynamic duo of Holt & Wessi. I wish it were not so, but Morison has just not stepped up. It would be an act of kindness should Villa take him from us. To NCFC and to SM.

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    Mad Brewer

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • Defo missed the horse.That fact is beyond debate. How could we not miss a big, hard-working forward who inspires his team mates?His goals are one thing, but his ability to hold the ball up + bully defences is also crucial to the way we play. Bunn was fouled for the 1st goal, but he's not strong enough. Their player would've bounced off Ruddy, rather than vicky-verky. We need both players back ASAP. We also need another big centre-forward. This game proved once + for all that we've "more reasons not to shop @ Morisons". If Lambert wants Morison, I'll drive him over to Villa Park myself !

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    Timbo

    Monday, December 24, 2012

  • If someone, anyone in fact, wants Morison, please let him go. A direct swap for Mickey Mouse would see us get the better end of the deal. He is lethargic, totally uninterested and way out of his depth. I'm sure that lack of regular matches doesn't help and it can't be that good mentally for anyone to be a bench warmer for 75 minutes every week, or waiting for Holt to get injured just for a start. That said, I hope we can find the right man to step up if the manager will allow it.

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    Bootneck R.M.

    Monday, December 24, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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