Canaries flying high

by Mike Hurley

Grant HoltAs the FA soldiers began their morning patrols through the winding catacombs of lower league football, they noticed something rather curious.

Located between the tombs of Charlton Athletic and Southampton, and across the hall from Leeds United and West Ham, there was another burial chamber. This one was different. A stone slab, used to seal the fate of whomever lay inside, had been carelessly pushed away. Engraved on the slab was a badge, yellow and green in colour, with a proud canary and an even prouder coat of arms. Trembling, the soldiers summoned the courage to peer in. All they found was a book, “Deliah’s Happy Christmas”, a few training bibs and five empty bottles of red wine… The Canaries had flown the coop.

Those who missed Monday’s visit of Norwich to White Hart Lane and saw only the 2 – 1 score line could be forgiven for assembling their own version of what happened: Surely Spurs, by far the more illustrious team, had dominated the match entirely and fallen victim of a Norwich smash’n’grab? They’d also be forgiven for assuming that the visitors stuck 10 men behind the ball and desperately fought to disrupt any attempts at playing football. These are easy assumptions to make because that’s what small teams do against big teams, isn’t it? Not Norwich City. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A cool finish from Anthony Pilkington and a thunderbolt from Elliot Bennett left Spurs stunned and handed the Canaries an unlikely 3 points at their nearest PL rivals. But it was the manner of the victory which was most impressive: they played an attacking formation, with two up front, at one of the most difficult grounds in the league to go to and won. Paul Lambert’s men, ironically reminiscent of Spurs a few years ago, fear no place and no man.

How many times have we seen a team like Norwich take a lead midway through the second half and then instantly haul off one of their strikers and play with one up top (or, in Everton’s case, none up top)? And how many times have we seen this blow up in said team’s face? This isn’t Paul Lambert’s style. Minutes after taking a 2 – 1 lead, he replaced the celestial Grant Holt (more on him later) with the like-for-like Steve Morrison. You can’t fix what ain’t broken, as the old saying goes.

Indeed, keeping an attacking threat in the form of a big forward meant that Norwich always had an outlet and means of holding up the ball. When they repelled a Tottenham attack, Morrison and journeyman Aaron Wilbraham were always capable of relieving pressure. For the majority of the game, the Norwich attackers constantly harried Spurs defenders, meaning the Londoners had real difficulty building from the back.

Norwich don’t seem to get the same praise as is lauded upon the likes of Swansea and Newcastle, nor does Lambert get the credit of messrs Pardew and Rodgers. It’s difficult to comprehend, when you look at how absolutely brazen they’ve been in terms of butting heads with the big dogs and how tremendously exciting their games have been: they’ve scored 46 goals, the best record outside the top six and conceded 52 goals, the worst record outside the bottom 6. Conceding goals is an issue for the Norfolk outfit, but nothing that can’t be remedied with a dip in the transfer market come July.

On the subject of transfer dealings, Paul Lambert must be applauded for his ability to unearth lower league talent. The likes of Anthony Pilkington, Wes Hoolahan, Bradley Johnson, David Fox and Elliot Bennett have all impressed after making the jump from League 1. Lambert put faith in his players to step up and hasn’t been disappointed.

Most impressive of all has been the red-hot Grant Holt. The former Nottingham Forest striker has been a revelation, disproving initial criticism that he wouldn’t be able to hack it at the top tier. 24 goals in his first season with the Canaries in League 1, 21 goals in the Championship and now 13 in the Premier League has caught the attention of many. In fact, his current haul places him as the second most prolific English goalscorer this season, behind Wayne Rooney.

“Holt for England” started as a joke, then quickly turned into a whisper, then transformed into a question, and has now become a stern demand. It would be easy to write off Holt as a typical rough and ready big man, fighting for scraps and throwing elbows, but he’s demonstrated a remarkably deft touch. Against Everton, earlier in the season, he swivelled past 2 defenders in the box with the ball seemingly glued to his feet before stroking beautifully past Tim Howard. More recently, he ran onto a bouncing through ball, lobbed the ball over stranded Wolves’ keeper Wayne Hennessey and nodded into an empty net – a goal Lionel Messi would have been proud to score.

That’s not to say he’s afraid to get physical – far from it. The burly hitman has been one of the most successful headers of the ball in the league this season, winning his share of aerial duels. Despite his stocky physique, his worth ethic is impeccable. Pressing effectively from the front has been a staple of his game. He’s given established Premiership defenders a torrid time this season, most notably Terry, Ferdinand and King. It’d be unfashionable and downright ballsy to include Holt, but one thing is for certain, England need a no-nonsense centre forward and with Rooney missing the group games, leaving Norwich’s talisman at home might just prove costly.

Fancy a bet? Setanta Bet is offering the following:

England to win their Euro 2012 group – 13/8

England to win Euro 2012 outright – 17/2

2 Responses

  1. Sue Read says:

    Great article. Proud to say I was there. Holt has proved to be a superb leader of the youngest squad in the Premier League. What he would bring to the England Dressing Room would match anything he achieved on the pitch.

  2. Mike Hurley says:

    Thanks Sue. :)

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