With Chris Hughton confirming in today’s Press Conference that Grant Holt trained this morning, and is in the squad for Saturday’s Newcastle game, he gave us all a timely boost. For as well as Simeon Jackson did at Peterborough – and he did VERY well – and as game and willing as the young legs of Harry Kane are, there’s no doubting which City striker Alan Pardew fears the most.
Holt’s qualities are well known – the last thing you need is me harping on about them again – but you can imagine the additional spring it adds to the step of Premier League defenders when ‘9. Grant Holt’ is missing from the team sheet. You can be sure that the Gareth McAuley and the James Tompkins, to name just two, breathed a very discreet and quiet sigh of relief when handed the Norwich sheet prior to the recent West Brom and West Ham games.
I’m sure he’d be loath to admit it, but I’m willing to bet that even the likes of Vincent Kompany afford themselves a wry smile when there’s no prospect of one Grant Holt charging over the horizon.
As Jonesy would say, those delicate souls ‘don’t like it up ‘em’… and our Holty is just the man for that role. The joint-demolition job done on Newcastle’s makeshift backline by Holt and Steve Morrison in December 2011 – when City beat the Toon 4-2 at Carrow Road – was a classic case, and what we’d give for a repeat on Saturday.
Sadly there’ll be no Morison at the weekend – Saturday coming too soon for him – but with City now playing the one ‘up top’, the challenge for the Newcastle defence will differ from last season. If the ‘one’ is numbered ‘9’ then that challenge is cranked up a notch – and Coloccini and co will fidget that little bit more uncomfortably in their dressing room seat.
Holt is that important to us; simple as.
If the skipper doesn’t make it – either through Hughton’s wish for caution or a late reaction to the injury – then the nod looks likely to head in Jackson’s direction. His efforts against Peterborough were well worthy of a Premier League start – but will necessitate a change in approach. While the skipper is a willing workhorse – too willing some say – his great strength comes when back to goal with his ability to hold the ball up, and bring others into play.
Jacko on the other hand prefers to face the opposite way; using his electric pace by lurking on the shoulder of the last defender. His goal on Saturday – courtesy of that exquisite David Fox through ball – was a perfect example of what he is all about.
What’s important is that if the skipper doesn’t make it – and Jackson is indeed given the gig – the style is tweaked accordingly. All too often in the past – and I’m talking three plus years ago – we’ve been content to hit long balls into the striker(s) and expect them, regardless of their strengths/weaknesses, to make the ball ‘stick’. Not an easy task – even on a good day – and even more difficult if your strength is in frightening defenders with your pace; especially if you’re playing as a lone striker.
Having said all of that, I trust Hughton implicitly and am sure his penchant for meticulous planning will ensure that, whatever the makeup of City’s front line, we’ll cause Newcastle problems.
Of the many good performances at London Road – albeit against hapless opposition – the masterclass in the art of passing, provided by the aforementioned Mr Fox, was the one that I suspect resonated most deeply with Team Hughton. The effortless way in which he stroked the ball around – short and long – was a timely reminder to us all of what he can do when given the platform.
Clearly the defensive midfield duo of Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey will take some shifting; they were – after all – the cornerstone upon which the ten game unbeaten run was built. But with his passing game in such fine fettle, the option of adding Fox’s artistry into the mix from the bench must surely figure high in Hughton’s thoughts.
I wrote a few weeks back about a dearth of creativity in the side if/when Wes Hoolahan is absent, but in Fox we do have someone who can invent. Not in the same way as Wes – obviously – but when sitting deep in the midfield he does have that ability to unlock doors with a ‘killer’ pass.
So, amidst all the talk of prospective new signings – and those successfully acquired in the summer – it’s a couple of members of the ‘Old Guard’ who may yet have key roles to play in the next few games.
Jonesy would be proud.
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