Robust striker needed to support Earnie

DAVID CUFFLEY The phrase “getting them in singles” has always been clearly identified with cricket - though there has been no sign of our Australian friends favouring that approach over the past three days.


The phrase “getting them in singles” has always been clearly identified with cricket - though there has been no sign of our Australian friends favouring that approach over the past three days.

But it could equally apply to Peter Grant's Norwich City side in the six weeks since he was appointed manager.

By five o'clock tonight, the Canaries may have torn up my script by serving up a veritable goal feast against Hull City, just as they shattered my theory on this very page last week about the first goal in the derby being potentially decisive.

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However, whatever this afternoon's score, the fact remains that before the Tigers arrived at Carrow Road, Norwich had yet to score more than once in a match under their new boss after seven Coca-Cola Championship games and two hours' Carling Cup action at Port Vale.

This barren sequence may just be coincidence, and the fact that four of those games have finished 1-0 in City's favour means there has not been too much unease voiced over their goal-shy spell. But perhaps there should be some cause for concern.

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Apart from the first half against leaders Cardiff, when City could and should have put themselves three or four goals ahead, they have struggled to create clear-cut chances in recent weeks.

They began the season using a 4-3-3 system with Robert Earnshaw, Darren Huckerby and Lee Croft providing a three-pronged attack and 10 goals in the first three home game suggested it was a winning formula.

The drawback with this formation seems to be that the three front players often seem isolated and outnumbered, especially if two of them are genuine wide players who are at their best operating close to the touchline. It's a system that relies heavily on marauding midfielders getting forward into the penalty area to provide support at every opportunity, but Earnshaw has been a lonely figure at times and though he missed two good opportunities in the second half at Ipswich, he has done well to register 11 goals in 17 Championship outings.

Before today's game, second highest scorer Dickson Etuhu had chalked up four goals from midfield and Carl Robinson one, with Youssef Safri and Andy Hughes yet to open their accounts for the season.

If City's midfielders cannot get forward more and increase their goal tally, the need for a more robust presence to both support Earnshaw and supply his own share of goals becomes more acute.

The Canaries' most successful goalscorers have usually been part of a twin spearhead - Cross and Bone, MacDougall and Boyer, Deehan and Bertschin, Sutton and Ekoku, albeit briefly, and Roberts and Bellamy . . . but Earnshaw has mostly had to plough a lone furrow this season.

Dion Dublin created chances for others in the final half-hour against Colchester just by getting his head on the end of every high ball in and around the visitors' area, though Grant afterwards expressed a reluctance to go for the route one approach and does not seem to consider the 37-year-old Dublin a realistic candidate for a full 90 minutes up front.

With Earnshaw's former Cardiff team-mate, 33-year-old Peter Thorne, regularly on the bench but seldom used by either Grant or his predecessor, the alternatives are extremely limited.

It seems a long time since the summer debate over the merits of bringing Rob Hulse, Steve Howard or Chris Sutton to Carrow Road. In two of those cases, City pleaded poverty and said they simply could not afford the players concerned.

Since then, to rub salt in their wounds, two former Canary targets - Burnley's Andy Gray and Ipswich's Alan Lee - have provided painful evidence of the kind of physical presence they have been missing up front. Lee, it must be said, was a constant handful last Sunday.

So can City afford to reinforce Grant's attacking armoury with a similar player in January? If they want to convert those singles into doubles and trebles all round, can they afford not to?


What do Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Meg Ryan, Desert Orchid and Pudsey Bear have in common?

Well, oddly enough, they were all pictured in Ipswich Town's match programme for the derby game against the Canaries.

There was a special tribute in the programme to “Dessie”, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who died earlier this month.

Published with Ipswich's message of condolence was a picture, taken at the National Stud, of the famous horse meeting Town mascot Bluey - another horse, by the way, albeit one who wears football kit and shakes hooves with people before matches.

Now I know, judging by the empty seats last Sunday, Ipswich are bit short of fans. But signing up animals is taking things a bit far.

No doubt he was registered on the Portman Road database as Mr D Orchid of Newmarket.

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