Who is going to fill void left by suspended Grant Holt?
Norwich City have come to depend so much on skipper Grant Holt’s contribution in recent weeks that it is odd now to reflect on how much time he spent on the bench in the first half of the season.
After starting the first four Premier League games of the campaign, scoring a brilliantly executed first top-flight goal in the 3-1 defeat at Chelsea, there was a run of 10 league games of which he started just one.
Though his appearances as substitute were invariably productive – scoring priceless equalising goals against Liverpool and Blackburn and the winner at home to Queens Park Rangers – it was not until the home game against Newcastle in mid-December that he started another run of regular appearances.
With Holt starting the same match as summer signing Steve Morison for only the third time, the two strikers’ aerial power destroyed the Magpies in front of Carrow Road’s biggest crowd for 28 years and the double player of the year was, apart from the occasional breather, back to stay.
If the autumn and early winter belonged to Morison, who at one stage scored five times in six league games, his star has dimmed – without a goal on his last eight appearances – while Holt’s has risen.
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His two goals against Wolves last week made it 14 for the season and took him to 67 for the club, moving past three of City’s all-time great goalscorers in Jimmy Hill, Ron Davies and Ted MacDougall and earning him further England recommendations.
Former manager Ron Atkinson joined the Holt for England campaign this week when he said: “His goals record is now beginning to establish an overwhelming case for consideration.”
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Atkinson, in his column for the Express & Star in Wolverhampton, added: “I tell you this – if you stuck Holt at the top of Manchester City’s attack, moving on to those opportunities David Silva and Sami Nasri create, he’d have far more goals than Edin Dzeko or Mario Balotelli.
“Just because Holt doesn’t have the pedigree of the top-class players doesn’t bar him from achieving at this stage of his career.
“England do not have a plethora of strikers that they can afford to lightly dismiss one of the success stories of the season.
“Had Lionel Messi fashioned and finished Norwich’s opening goal the way Holt did, you can bank on the fact that we’d have been talking about it for weeks.”
But if supporters have begun to wonder how the Canaries would have coped without their top scorer, they get the chance to find out tomorrow.
Holt’s over-zealous challenge on Wolves winger Michael Kightly, which brought a second yellow card from referee Mark Clattenburg, means he serves a one-match ban for the trip to Fulham.
A blow though his absence undeniably is, it is a timely opportunity for City’s remaining strikers – none of whom has scored in nine Premier League games since the 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion – to take centre stage.
Simeon Jackson has worked his socks off since his return to the side and has provided a string of valuable assists, including the final ball for goals from Wes Hoolahan and Holt in the last two home games, but apart from his two FA Cup goals, he has not found the net since his injury-time equaliser in the first meeting with Fulham on New Year’s Eve.
Eleven weeks after last getting on the scoresheet with his late winner at The Hawthorns, Morison, more than anything, looks as if he desperately needs that next goal.
He must have felt he had scored it two minutes from time against Wigan, only for his header to be kept out by a brilliant one-handed save from goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
But with five of Morison’s nine goals coming from powerful headers – he has looked less comfortable of late with the ball at his feet – a steady flow of crosses into the right area may be all he needs to get back on the goal trail and restore his confidence.
With the exception of the dismal FA Cup defeat at the hands of Leicester, Jackson and Morison have not started the same match since the league win at West Bromwich. Tomorrow may present them with another opportunity to team up and get the scoreboard moving again.
Just what the immediate future holds for City’s three remaining senior strikers is unclear.
Aaron Wilbraham has produced some tidy cameo performances and was desperately unlucky not to chalk up his first Premier League goal against Manchester United, but his only start this season is still the 4-0 Carling Cup defeat at the hands of former club MK Dons.
Manager Paul Lambert rejected a national newspaper report last week that he had already decided to release Wilbraham in the summer, but if he doesn’t get that long-awaited start at Fulham tomorrow, it is hard to see when it will come.
James Vaughan’s season has been wrecked, through no fault of his own, by injury. Four outings as substitute have amounted to 73 minutes on the field, a bitter blow for the �2m former Everton man, currently ruled out by a hamstring problem after previously being sidelined by knee injuries. But with just 100 first team appearances in six years before arriving at Carrow Road – only 43 of them starts – there was always an element of uncertainty over how much we would see of Vaughan.
Chris Martin has scored six times during his loan spell at Crystal Palace and appears to have made a favourable impression on manager Dougie Freedman. Martin has become a Championship regular for the Eagles – and has started all seven of Palace’s games in March. After being the first striker to be moved out of Carrow Road this season after the briefest of tastes of Premier League action, it remains to be seen what the final year of his City contract has in store.
It would be surprising, though, if Lambert was not already making plans to bolster his strike force in the summer.