Friday, February 22, 2013
Chris Hughton faces an interesting selection dilemma for Everton’s Premier League visit this weekend.
Hughton revealed after the goalless affair against Fulham that Grant Holt’s untimely back spasm complaint had scuppered his plan to pair the skipper in tandem with recent signing Luciano Becchio.
Given the way the Argentine struggled against the combined physicality of Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos at Carrow Road, Hughton’s pre-match call was perfectly judged.
On that occasion he opted to retain rather than revise the lone striking option that has been a constant theme during a Premier League season which ebbed from bust to boom and has now hit another fallow period, where City’s solidity compensates for continued struggles at the sharp end.
The Toffees will present no less a formidable obstacle with central defenders such as Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga.
Holt was harassed by Distin for large spells of the corresponding fixture at Goodison Park before Christmas when City failed to to establish a bridgehead in Everton’s half for any great length of time - limiting Wes Hoolahan’s effectiveness in his chief support role.
That experience alone should be enough to convince Hughton this weekend might be an opportune moment to unleash Holt and Becchio in tandem.
One goal in the last six games in all competitions demands more than a peripheral tinkering to the system or the personnel. Just how the manager and his coaching brains go about altering the balance to try and accommodate both Holt and Becchio offers an intriguing dimension; particularly in regard to that key midfield mix where City must balance defensive protection with a desire to unlock the potential of a muscular two-pronged strikeforce.
Against QPR at Loftus Road, Holt dropped deeper after Hoolahan’s late exit with the south American pushed right up top.
Deploy the two together against Everton and those supply lines from wide areas become even more crucial. City’s failure to exploit space down the channels against Fulham only increased the degree of difficulty placed on Becchio.
Tony Cottee, a man who knew how to effectively operate deep in enemy territory during a successful career, watched Norwich’s latest Carrow Road game in his Skysports role.
“I felt a bit sorry for Becchio because he is not really a targetman,” Cottee told me. “He was a bit isolated and I don’t see him as the type of player who can hold onto the ball and bring others into play. He really needs to play off someone, like Grant Holt, and he can do some damage. That is what I have seen of him as a player. Against Hangeland and Senderos, two big strong centre halves, you are not going to get a lot of joy.”
Becchio and Holt share a similar goalscoring ratio in English football, but it is too simplistic to bracket them in the same mould. Hughton’s post-Fulham admission appeared to suggest he shared Cottee’s premise.
The power of two may well be Hughton’s antidote to a lack of productivity in the final third.
More than that, the arrival of Becchio takes some of the onerous burden off Holt. City’s skipper has had to harness his own attacking instincts within the framework Hughton implemented to edge Norwich towards the only goal that matters - retaining the club’s Premier League status.
Holt’s undoubted ability to fulfil that solitary role has been a key factor in City’s relative success to this advanced stage of the campaign. Yet Goodison Park was just one such example where Norwich’s collective approach was seemingly countered by the opposition.
Hughton may just have settled on a fresh remedy ahead of the return.