City centre-half Gary Doherty is hoping that Clinton Morrison's New Year celebrations do not start off with a bang tomorrow as the two, Republic of Ireland pals come face-to-face at Selhurst Park.
Morrison, 28, has grabbed eight goals in Palace's last ten outings – a rich vein of goal-scoring form that has helped propel Neil Warnock's Eagles from the bottom three to the very edge of the play-off places.
Little wonder that The Doc treads warily into Croydon suburbia tomorrow. He will have his hands full.
“I think they've got Clinton and Jamie Scowcroft up front – and Clinton has been on fire of late,” said Doherty. “They're two that we're going to have to look at and be prepared for a hard battle.”
Interestingly, new City boss Glenn Roeder admitted earlier that Morrison was one he enquired about shortly before the emergency loan window shut towards the end of last month. Just as ex-boss Nigel Worthington did before his ?2 million switch back to south London from Birmingham City in the summer of 2005.
“Ironically, I asked about him on transfer deadline day,” said Roeder at Colney this morning. “And since I asked whether he was available, he's put him back in the side and he hasn't stopped scoring.”
Warnock, it appears, thought briefly about letting Morrison out as he made his own, tentative enquiries about a couple of Norwich's players. The News of the World put Darel Russell's name in the frame for a ?500,000 move to Palace.
“He ummed and ahhed, gave it a little bit of thought and decided to keep him as he's got a good goal-scoring record – as he's proved,” added Roeder.
As one of Doherty's regular Championship sparring partners, Morrison will hold few surprises for the City centre-half. He knows exactly what a tricky customer he can be.
“I know Clinton well and I'm over the moon for him, really,” said Doherty. “Warnock's come in and changed his season round because I don't think he was firing too much at the start. But of late he can't stop scoring. So I'm delighted for him – but we'll try and put a stop to that tomorrow.”
Knowing Morrison's game is a start, said Doherty. “But he knows me as well – so that's the worry! But I do know his strengths more than most as I've played against him a lot and we always have a decent enough battle and it's going to be a tough game. It's always tough going to Crystal Palace.”
In fairness to Doherty, since his return to the side in the wake of Martin Taylor's return to Birmingham City he has barely put a foot wrong. Man of the match in the 1-0 away win at Scunthorpe United, he was back putting his head in where it hurt in Saturday's hard-fought 1-1 draw with Wolves.
Indeed, it was a moot point whether it was Doherty or David Marshall that kept Jay Bothroyd at bay in the game's dying seconds as the Wolves' striker left two men trailing and looked odds-on to poach an injury-time winner.
Be it keeper or defender, it was enough to keep City's six-game unbeaten run intact as the Canaries continue to dig their way out of the drop zone.
“We've put a great run together, but it probably feels like we're not getting anywhere because we've given ourselves so much to do. But we're out of the relegation zone now and we can start looking up the table and try and keep moving forward,” said Doherty.
As for the reasons behind City's recent revival, the former Spurs and Luton star was more than happy to share the credit around – in particular to a rebuilt midfield in which both Russell and the on-loan Matty Pattison have shone. Both run all day; both have proved quick to the tackle; both offer an excellent first line of defence for the back four behind them.
“I think we are more difficult to beat now – that's obvious, we were getting beat all the time,” said Doherty. “We're well organised at the minute and we've got two very hard-working midfielders that help out the defence a lot, so that obviously helps us as a back four and I think that's one of the main points, to be honest.”
Together, as a team, they have given the Canaries something to build on; the chance to make mid-table safety their own come the spring.
“We're unbeaten in six so that's not too bad – and the game that we did lose was a disappointing one up at Stoke where we felt we should have got something,” said Doherty. “So we're on a decent run and the confidence is good, but obviously we're at Palace tomorrow and they're on a great run as well so something is going to have to give tomorrow.”
Just don't expect a fiesta of flowing football was The Doc's advice. Four games in the space of ten days do not tend to lend themselves to pure, passing encounters; that's not exactly what the Championship is all about. And Warnock – for all the various opinions that follow him around – knows exactly what the Championship is all about.
“There's not that many footballing sides; a lot of teams will look long and you've got to be ready for it,” said Doherty, likely to be in for a long afternoon tomorrow.