Return of Lewis Grabban will create a big headache for Championship play-off finalists Norwich City
- Credit: Archant
Reporter GAVIN CANEY looks at the dilemma facing Alex Neil now that he has all three of his main strikers available for the Championship play-off final at Wembley.
The fans have had their say but Alex Neil's is the only opinion that counts.
At around 2pm on Monday the Norwich City faithful will discover which 11 players have been handed the responsibility, initially, of winning the most crucial of football matches against Middlesbrough. Individual dreams will be shattered when the Canaries boss reveals his hand and confirms who has made the cut to be deployed from the off. And most eyes will be on the name that is selected to spearhead the yellows' attacking intent.
Is it fair to suggest that only one frontman will be deployed with Neil unlikely to alter a set-up that offers slightly more defensive protection, allows for added thrust from midfield and, most importantly, has largely been a success. Unfortunately for Gary Hooper, Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban – unless City's boss surprises us all and opts for Luciano Becchio – three does not go into one.
So who will lead the line against Boro? It's a question that has been burning all week with a pretty overwhelming 68pc suggesting it should not be the man who is eligible again after serving a three-game ban for the red card he received against Rotherham. And while there's an argument to be had that Grabban could be rusty, another train of thought remains he could be fresh and raring to make up for his stupid and costly misdemeanour.
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Cameron Jerome has played nine times more than his suspension free team-mate and ran himself into the ground during both legs against Ipswich Town. Has he got enough in the tank to muster one final push for glory? Many would say yes. However, don't downplay his ability to change the game with match-winning cameos at Cardiff, Charlton and Blackburn proving to be the difference.
The 28-year-old is also the most prolific of the three – Hooper's 12 goals of course have come from less starts and more substitute appearances than the others – and his 20 strikes perhaps deserve one final key role during arguably the finest season of his career. Yet this is not the time for sentiment. There is a job to be done. And let's remember that Grabban can do it very well.
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Under Neil, the former Bournemouth man has become something of a lucky charm. Seventy-five per cent of the times he has made the XI, City have won. Prior to his injury against Ipswich Town in March, he started seven games in a row, scoring five times. And on a day where every detail will count, it's worth noting that 90pc of the matches Grabban has scored in, Norwich have gone on to win.
Hooper has only started four of the last 14 so is almost certain to have to make do with a watching brief. His goal-getting instincts off the bench – something Grabban is considerably less potent at (one in 12 appearances) – are a huge weapon.
Grabban offers better movement and more pace yet it's the powerful Jerome who is the man with the shirt. It's going to be a tough decision for Neil to make as to whether he gets the chance to keep it.
Our online survey asked City supporters whether Lewis Grabban should start against Middlesbrough. Here are the results:
*From 919 respondents
Let's not vote on this but trust our manager to make the right call. Have no doubt that he will have a game plan and he knows what little knocks and injuries certain players have so is best placed, as well as being the most qualified, to make this important decision. Trevor Keith
If Alex Neil thinks Grabban is a better option then I am sure he will pick him. It's not about 'who got us through the semi-finals' it's about horses for courses. In AN we trust.
What a dilemma. In the good old/bad old days you had the first 11 and the bench was there for emergencies. Now AN is spoilt for choice. We must trust the man, he's done good up till now. IANWT.
I would start with the same 11. As long as we start at the same time as Boro, we will be ok!
Ihave been very pleasantly surprised by Jerome and his all round game, not just the goals that he has scored. That said, we have three very good strikers who he can call upon. For me, the main decision to make is about whether to go with Dorrans or Redmond and I am glad that I do not have to make that call. IANIT
Grabban should not be allowed anywhere near the match-day squad. If he had not got himself sent off we might not have been in this position. COYY.
Alex Neil knows his players by now and will pick the team that he thinks will do the business on the day. Grabban could well write an appropriate headline after being ignored for a few weeks.
Of course start Grabban. He is mobile and will drag the Boro defence all over the place, leaving room for the three attacking midfielders behind him. Sub him for Jerome at 70 mins, defence tired due to the big pitch, so Jerome can attack them!
I'd like to see Hooper start alongside Jerome – he has experience of big matches and big crowds.
If I was Grabban I'd be wanting to make amends for my actions so if he played against Boro I would hope he would play his socks off. I would certainly include him on the bench.
To say Grabban let everyone down by getting sent off during the match at Rotherham is an understatement. There is certainly a moral case for not starting him.
1 Lewis Grabban has come off the bench 12 times this season but only scored during one of those substitute appearances
2 With three goals in nine cameos, Cameron Jerome is statistically the Canaries' most potent impact sub
3 Only one of Gary Hooper's three goals after being introduced to proceedings has inspired a win. Grabban (one) and Jerome (three) have a 100pc goal-to-win ratio when hitting the net as a sub
4 Norwich have gone on to win 90pc of the games Lewis Grabban has scored in
5 The Canaries have not lost a match that Cameron Jerome has scored in. The same goes for Lewis Grabban too
6 Cameron Jerome has featured in more games, 23 out of 24, than his fellow strikers under Alex Neil
7 Gary Hooper has only started four of his side's last 14 fixtures
8 Injury and suspension-hit Lewis Grabban has been used from the off in eight of the 14 matches he has been able to play in since Alex Neil replaced Neil Adams as boss
9 Twenty two of Gary Hooper's 34 outings for the yellows this term have come under the management of Alex Neil
10 Six of the eight games Lewis Grabban has started under Alex Neil have resulted in a Norwich victory (75pc win ratio). That record is better than that of Gary Hooper (70pc) and Cameron Jerome (62.5pc)
11 Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper (56pc) have exactly the same win-percentage ratio when they've started for the yellows this season. Cameron Jerome's record stands at 49pc
12 Thirteen times Gary Hooper has been sent on and failed to find the net. Lewis Grabban has suffered the same scoreless fate on 11 occasions with Cameron Jerome drawing a blank six times as a substitute
13 Lewis Grabban scored in four consecutive appearances in August – the hottest streak of any City striker this term
14 No City striker, or player for that matter, has scored so far against Middlesbrough this season
15 Seventy-six per cent of the times Cameron Jerome has scored Norwich have gone on to win – that's nine per cent higher than Gary Hooper's return.