Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Frankly I would be more concerned if Grant Holt did not have the hump with being hooked.
It’s all water under the proverbial now of course but there was an amusing sideshow to last week’s latest encouraging instalment in Norwich City’s bid to upset the Premier League establishment for a second consecutive season.
Hard-earned points at Everton and Southampton were the precursor to a Sunderland home win laced with characteristic resolution and flashes of sublime attacking potential from Chris Hughton’s squad. Holt’s reportedly adverse reaction to his late withdrawal at St Mary’s was a forgettable footnote to the main survival business in hand.
Personally, I did not see the incident in real-time from my perch at the back of Southampton’s Main Stand and neither did Hughton, judging by his initial reaction when pressed in the post-match media briefing that took place within an hour of the final whistle deep within the bowels of the same part of the stadium.
Holt, it would appear, made straight for the sanctuary of the away dressing room following his 81st minute exit for Steve Morison on the south coast. Hughton was his usual diplomatic self - both on the night at St Mary’s and prior to Sunderland’s weekend visit as the topic appeared to rumble on, but it was telling Holt’s latest impact in Sunday’s Premier League success over the Black Cats drew fulsome praise from his manager.
City’s upwardly mobile trajectory since defeat at Chelsea has triggered a relative lean spell in front of goal for Holt. It is hardly a coincidence; more a reflection of the huge demands placed on the skipper in his lone front-running role.
The Cumbrian is currently being asked to try and occupy two centre backs during most games whilst providing both a mobile target and an effective foil for Wes Hoolahan.
City’s captain is the focal point ensuring Hughton’s system can function properly; buying the requisite time for the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass to be released from their defensive screening duties to get high enough up the pitch in support, and then attempting to be on the end of any service that does arrive.
It is a testing role that has clearly curbed Holt’s predatory instincts. City’s leading scorer for the past three seasons is spending less time within the parameters of the 18-yard box as a consequence, yet far from eroding City’s potential to pick up league points, Hughton’s men are reaping the rewards with each passing week they pull further clear of the scrap towards the lower reaches.
Strikers measure themselves in goals – whatever they say publicly – so few would blame the prolific Hall of Famer if he harboured a tinge of underlying frustration at failing to add to the three goals that came in consecutive games, culminating in the 1-0 win over Arsenal which triggered the current upturn.
If that manifests itself in visible signs of anxiety, such as at St Mary’s, then it is to be viewed as a testament to Holt’s commitment to the cause. Not turned into some sort of phantom, divisive issue.
Modern-day footballers are routinely castigated for being driven solely by self-interest and financial incentive, but Holt always gives the impression of a man ill at ease in the comfort zone. Once already this season he felt compelled to directly answer those critics who questioned his appetite or his hunger to reprise the personal and professional success of a debut top flight campaign that saw him finish second only to Wayne Rooney in the English-bred goal charts.
Holt is an experienced campaigner and a key personality within the City dressing room. His deeds since moving to Norfolk typify a character who leads by example. For those who portrayed his Southampton exit as a tantrum, I would put forward a case for the defence.
Of a man who demands everything of himself and his team mates. Of a captain who cares enough about his own personal performances and of his residual value to the team.
Holt does not need Hughton to remind him his main role this season is to ensure the Canaries retain their Premier League status. His goals will remain critical over the course of the next few months, but he offers so much more to the cause.