Cureton for Earnie looks a decent deal

DAVID CUFFLEY The winner of City's first player of the month award of the season will not receive his prize until the next home game - indeed the next first team game of any kind - against Crystal Palace in a fortnight's time.


The winner of City's first player of the month award of the season will not receive his prize until the next home game - indeed the next first team game of any kind - against Crystal Palace in a fortnight's time.

But although he missed two of the Canaries' five August games, one would not be at all surprised if striker Jamie Cureton topped the poll.

Full-back Jon Otsemobor has made a positive impression with his pace and his willingness to attack and could be a good outside bet for the award, but nothing is likely to give one hero status among the fans as quickly as banging in the goals, especially goals of a spectacular nature.

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Cureton's stunning double in the Coca-Cola Championship victory over Southampton two weeks ago lifted City from a position where they appeared to be heading for a humdrum defeat, not dissimilar to their reverse at the hands of the Saints in the final home match of last season, to an almost euphoric mood in the final half-hour.

The finish he produced for his second goal, from Lee Croft's cross, could not have been bettered by Wayne Rooney himself, never mind Robert Earnshaw.

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Comparisons with Earnshaw were inevitable from the moment Cureton arrived, just days after the Wales international's £3.5m departure to Derby. Though Cureton topped the Championship scoring charts with 23 goals for Colchester United last season, it's a fair bet Earnshaw would have beaten that tally had he not missed three months' action with a serious groin injury. As it was, he still found the net 19 times.

Cureton was well aware of the level of expectation as he began his second spell with the Canaries.

He said after the Southampton game: "As a new player coming in with a price tag on my head, golden boot, with Earnie leaving, there's a lot of pressure and it's totally different to what I had last year.

"Last year was a free sort of season where no one expected anything. This year people expect me to score, so it's nice to get them early and get them out of the way.

"Four goals have come at home so I'm delighted with that. By doing that, I'm adding more pressure on myself but that's what I'm here to do and it's part of football."

The fee stipulated in Earnshaw's get-out clause was surprisingly low, but leaving aside the financial issue, I don't think too many City fans would quibble at getting Cureton as his replacement for roughly a quarter of the fee, even allowing for the fact that he is six years older.

In fact, though he is 32 - and had the misfortune to mark his birthday on Tuesday by sitting out

the Carling Cup tie at Rochdale with injury - Cureton is in an unusual position for a player of his age in that his star still appears to be rising, or at least still at its brightest. Apart from his brief experience of the Premiership in his first spell at Norwich, he is banging in goals at as high a level as at any stage of his career. His next target is to get off the mark away from home, but he will have to wait until the trip to Charlton on September 18 for the opportunity.

Earnshaw is a great finisher and scored some stunning goals for City, but his willingness to move to Pride Park at the first opportunity - where doubt is already being cast over his future - betrayed a cool, businesslike approach beneath an extremely polite and amiable young man.

Colchester fans might argue that Cureton acted in a similar way, but in the eyes of City supporters, he has a definite advantage over Earnshaw. He clearly wants to be at Norwich. Because of thwarted ambition in his early years, he believes he has unfinished business.

The reaction from the crowd to his first goal in the Carling Cup tie against Barnet demonstrated that they were welcoming an old favourite home, albeit one they saw very little of, at least in first team football, in his formative years.

Despite 135 goals at reserve and youth team level, he made just 13 starts, 19 appearances as a substitute and scored six goals before Mike Walker sold him to Bristol Rovers for £250,000 as a 21-year-old in October 1996.

His green hair at Portman Road, his outwardly cheeky demeanour and his reluctance to celebrate goals he has scored against City have all contributed to his popularity and made it easier for him to win over the fans than other new signings.

He said: "I had a good bond with them when I was here before but it wasn't to the extent of this year. I wasn't classed as a first team regular as a kid coming in and out but they've always liked me, for some reason."

The reason is not too difficult to fathom.

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