Preston North End will be desperately hoping that ex-Canary striker Chris Brown can return to haunt his former employers this weekend as the bottom-of-the-table Lilywhites look to throw a large spanner in the Norfolk club’s promotion works.
Lowly and injury-riddled Doncaster Rover have already proved what awkward customers sides struggling for their Championship lives can be.
Traditionally such sides as Rovers and rock-bottom North End don’t bring out the best in the Canaries.
Likewise, old boys have a nasty habit of springing a surprise – grabbing their first goal of the season, for example, in the case of the injury-hit Brown.
The 26-year-old former Sunderland trainee grabbed just one goal in his 24-game Canary career following that £325,000 move to Norfolk in January, 2007.
His switch to Deepdale a year later, initially, worked well. This season – in common with the rest of his team-mates – Brown has found it hard to find the net. It is also two months since he last featured.
But needs must as boss Phil Brown and his veteran No2 Brian Horton – once the manager of Brighton and Huddersfield – look for their first win in charge.
“Chris is a good player – I think we have missed his presence, power, size and ability to score goals,” Horton, told the Lancashire Evening Post this week, in the run-up to this weekend’s Carrow Road clash.
Victory would keep the Canaries bang on the heels of second-placed Swansea City.
But Horton is desperately hoping that an hour’s action in Preston Reserves’ 4-2 win over Wrexham this week will give the visitors the presence they so often lack up front.
“He is more of a target man than the other strikers at the club, and we’ve lacked someone like that at times,” said the Preston No2.
“As long as he is fit, Chris comes into contention and he’ll probably be one of the first names on the squad sheet after his performance in the reserves. Iain Hume came through the reserves as well, like Chris he played for an hour. They are a good pairing.”
He is, he said, travelling to Carrow Road with every respect for what Norwich have achieved under boss Paul Lambert and one of his former charges, Ian Culverhouse.
“They are a good side, their manager has done a great job, and I know their assistant Ian Culverhouse very well – he was a player under me at Brighton,” said Horton. “But it’s not about them, it’s about what we do. We have to keep believing things will turn round.”
Lambert, meanwhile, was busily trying to dampen down expectations of another easy, home success.
The point was proved in that mid-week draw with Doncaster; that you can take nothing for granted in this division.
Preston’s last-gasp equaliser away at Nottingham Forest – and all after just conceding a goal themselves in the game’s dying minutes – suggests that the spirits are still willing at Deepdale even if Brown and Horton have yet to find the winning formula in their 13 games at the helm.
“Anybody coming to tomorrow’s game, expecting it to be an easy game – it’s not,” the City chief stressed to the club’s official website today.
“Every game is tough. This is a hard game.”
Last weekend’s 2-0 away win at Barnsley ensures that the Canaries will head into battle with form firmly on their side; fitness, too, isn’t in too bad a shape – albeit the likes of Leon Barnett and Chrissy Martin will both be sidelined.
The return to fitness of midfielder Andrew Surman has enabled Lambert to push Wes Hoolahan into a more advanced position alongside skipper Grant Holt.
It will be interesting to see whether that was a horse run for an away-day course – or whether Hoolahan will continue to act as the Canaries ‘second striker’, the one real problem area for Lambert and Culverhouse.
Preston will also welcome back the on-loan Leon Cort to the heart of their defence.
Carl’s kid brother has ‘form’ against the Canaries – if memory serves he bagged a goal for Stoke City by forcing his way onto yet another high ball heaved into the City box.
Now with Burnley, his set-piece threat will give Messrs Whitbread and Ward something to ponder.