The year was 1994 and on a chilly Saturday afternoon in December, Ashley Ward scored what proved to be the only goal in a 1-0 away win for Norwich at Selhurst Park. It’s taken City almost 17 years, but on Saturday, Norwich registered their first away Premier League win since that cold December victory.
Time to celebrate? Why not? It’s the first time we’ve scored more than one goal in a match this season, two new names on the goals scorers list, a new formation (4-1-1) that seems to be effective and most importantly, three more precious points in bank of Premiership survival.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised when I read the lineup ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 away win at Bolton. Lambert made no less than six changes from the side that put in a commendable effort against West Brom. While Ritchie De Laet’s performances have been consistently strong, his omission from central defense was not entirely shocking, by any means. Lambert generously said it was to “take him out of the firing line”. I think that translates to, "I'm more concerned about another embarrassing and expensive blunder."
The exclusion of team captain Grant Holt, on the other hand, was significantly less predictable.
Paul Lambert named Holt his captain in his first game in charge; a 2-1 defeat away at Brentford back in Aug., 2009. Holt waited for his second match with the armband to justify the appointment, which saw City win 5-2 against Lambert’s former employers, Wycombe Wanderers. Holt claimed an impressive double. Since Lambert took over at City, Holt has never missed a game without it being justified by a suspension or an injury, until now.
In less than two full seasons, Holt was the team captain throughout, twice led the team to league promotions, twice won the fan’s player of the year award, was twice the team’s top goal scorer and twice featured in the respective division’s team of the season. However, the unspoken contribution of Grant Holt could be more significant than all the awards combined. His strength and work rate are unparalleled and the way he holds up the ball and terrorizes opponents has been simply colossal since joining the canaries. “Captain Marvellous” has earned his nickname, comedic underwear or not!
I’m not sounding the alarm bells just yet and I’m fairly confident he’ll feature against Sunderland next Monday, but when you leave a player out and the team goes on to win, the question has to be asked; do we need him?
In Steve Morrison we have a striker who is not only physically strong and a hard worker, but he has an extra injection of speed that Holt does not possess. James Vaughan is considerably quicker than both of them and we’re still yet to see what he’s capable of. There’s no doubt that Holt is a presence in the box and a force in the air that cannot be replaced, but we need goals and one in four, as Holt has produced thus far, won’t cut it at this level. However, with Morrison and Vaughan still without a Norwich goal between, it would appear that none of the strikers are staking a claim just yet.
We also know from last season, that sometimes Holt does not start strong, but soon finds his stride and this is the school of thought that I most resonate with. Despite his baby-face, his playful sense of humor and affinity for repulsive facial hair, Grant Holt takes his football seriously. The man is a professional and a natural born leader. No matter what people might think of him around the league, he's a defender's nightmare. John Terry, arguably the best defender in the country, had a really tough time against Holt during City’s visit to Stamford Bridge last month and most honest defenders would admit he’s a handful, even when he’s not scoring goals.
So how do we get the most out of Holt? We have players who can supply him; Bennett, Pilkington, Naughton, Tierney, Hoolahan. So we can assert that the supply is there. He knows where to be in the box and when to be there.
I'm hoping that the conundrum is about to be solved and the answer is just one of timing. Clearly, he has not yet acclimated to the league. Ordinarily, Premier League players do not get grace; if you’re not performing, you get the axe (unless you’re a pretty young Spanish striker who cost around 50 million pounds), but Holt offers enough to this team each week that he’s worth the patience.
He also seems to have a great rapport with the manager, who noted that Holt responded well to the news that he would not be starting against Bolton. With all of this in mind, I’m going to make a prediction; Holt will lead the team out on Monday against Sunderland. Holt will score, Norwich will take at least a point from an extremely difficult match and my fantasy league team will gather some much needed points.