Reading boss Brian McDermott proved a breath of fresh air in the run-up to tomorrow’s Carrow Road clash with the Canaries – by finally giving City skipper Grant Holt the respect he is undoubtedly due.
The 29-year-old featured heavily in the 3-3 draw at the Madejski earlier this season – or, at least, did until his controversial red card turned the contest on its head and, likewise, had City boss Paul Lambert seeing red on the touchline.
Twice, however, Holt has found himself the subject of pointed remarks from opposition managers – QPR’s Neil Warnock and Millwall’s Kenny Jackett opting to have a little pop post-match after seeing the Canary striker derail their best-laid plans.
He wins free-kicks outside the box; he wins penalties inside it. That’s what awkward strikers do; prove a right pain to play against.
Indeed, it is all to Holt’s credit that he got underneath the skin of both men; that’s a sure sign that he was doing the job that both Lambert and Mother Nature intended – to put himself about.
McDermott, however, clearly respects Holt’s abilities – and the danger he poses the Royals as they look to get their own play-off ambitions back on track after dropping five points from the two games against QPR and Cardiff.
“Grant Holt has found himself a niche there and it’s worked for him – good luck to him,” said McDermott, with Holt grabbing No13 for the campaign in last weekend’s 2-1 away defeat at Burnley.
It was some strike – given the angle that ball reared up at him on the edge of the Clarets box. McDermott would have taken note.
“He’s an honest player, does a good job for the team, puts in a good shift and scores goals for them,” the Royals’ chief told the Reading Post this evening.
Few ‘experts’ would have had the Canaries in the top four at this stage in the season; most, you suspect, would have banked on the Lambert bubble bursting by the end of the autumn as the Championship new-boys ran out of steam following last season’s League One title triumph.
If anything, the Canaries have quickened the pace of their progress; this week’s £2 million injection into Lambert’s transfer kitty will have set the Norfolk pulses racing again. McDermott, it appears, has not been surprised by the fact that Norwich’s upward momentum has shown little sign of slowing. “I’m not surprised with what they’ve done,” he claimed today. “Paul Lambert has done a good job now and has got them right back in the mix. “They have great support and the place will be rocking tomorrow. When a team comes from League One it can go one way or another, but when you’re a team like Norwich and a big club it’s not a surprise.” The first meeting was – for the watching neutral – a right cracker; it had the lot. Whether the re-match tomorrow proves a repeat is another matter. If it does, the punters will certainly have had their money’s worth out of the two teams this season. “Last time we played them we made mistakes for the three goals,” McDermott said, with Holt and his then partner Chrissy Martin enjoying one of their best day’s out – before officialdom struck and let the Royals right back into the contest. “When we got back to 3-3 there was only one winner and we should have won that game.” On the back of last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Turf Moor, Norwich’s prized record of never having lost back-to-back league games on Lambert’s watch is back under the spotlight again. The manager has no reason to doubt that the right response will be forthcoming; that the usual pattern of events will be maintained in front of the home faithful. “We’ve always done it – we’ve always bounced back and, hopefully, tomorrow will be the same,” Lambert told the club’s official website today. He is also in the happy position of being able to select from virtually a fully-fit squad – including luckless midfielder Andrew Surman. The 24-year-old has managed to make just six starts for his new employers this season. His latest return from a niggling knee problem came with an hour-long run-out in the 2-1 Norfolk Senior Cup defeat by Dereham in mid-week. He is, said Lambert, ready to return to front-line duty. “He is a top class footballer and we’ve just been unfortunate that we haven’t seen the best of him,” said the City boss. On the brief glimpses that he has been on centre stage, Surman looks the part. His delivery and strike of the ball sets him apart. There’s something there. “I think the times that he did play – before he got his knee injury again – I thought he was playing really well at the time,” confirmed the Canary chief, speaking ahead of today’s final training session. “I think he’s a top footballer and as long as he comes through today OK, then he’ll be in contention.