If Holtmania is a real thing, Manchester United – and Jonny Evans – better beware
> United will be wary of Grant Holt
> Holt will test renascent Jonny Evans
> Norwich’s emergence has been impressive
the experts the so-called experts, say 40 points is all a team needs to ensure survival in the Premier League and Norwich City seem on course to do so — but if and when they do reach the target teams in their position naturally look to (having only been promoted from the Championship the season before), they will certainly not consider it job done/mission accomplished/any other non-irritating cliché you wish to offer. In fact, it would take something remarkable — remarkably bad, that is — to end the campaign around that tally; they want more. And they should get more. For one, they’re only five points shy of the 40, sitting comfortably in 8th place; and there is still another 13 to play. Even Europa League football next year (which we’ve established is a good thing) is within sight, as improbable as that looked back in August. So who is to thank for their supposed over-achieving?
Grant Holt’s rise falls into the category favoured by cliché-ridden commentators; the much-travelled type who worked his way up from non-league obscurity (and, at one point, playing for a Singaporean outfit) to something better after years of hard work. That’s no criticism; in fact, it’s quite incredible. Of course it is. This, his first top-flight season in all 13 years of his career, at the age of 30. Players in a similar position are not so lucky; however, watching Holt (for many this year is the first they’ve ever seen of him), you get the feeling that he’s actually been rather unlucky to have made it so late. The hype — even if most of it is from admiring Norwich fans giving him cult status — is justified.
Because the burly Holt, strong, robust and somewhat over-zealous, is having a fine season. In the Canaries’ most recent game against Swansea, an impressive 3-2 win over Swansea City at the Liberty, the peripatetic striker helped the visitors gain all three points. Two second-half goals, a header and a fine powerful finish, fit the description. The journeyman done good. The brace made it nine in all; and calls for a first England cap grew louder. He didn’t get it, but he might still hold hope in getting one; after all, even David Nugent has a cap.
And so we move on to Sunday. Holt and Norwich host a depleted Manchester United and such has been the progress made by Lambert’s side, that a home victory is not so unlikely. Indeed, United better beware. Norwich are just below them in the form table on the basis of goal difference; having won 13 points from a possible 18. And Holt has been earmarked by Jonny Evans as the biggest threat to the Reds. The renascent Evans is likely to come up against him and it’ll be a true test of just how much Evans — and perhaps even Holt, too — has come this season. The Northern Irishman has had a fair amount of critics in his short time at the club but he’s gradually becoming the player he wasn’t expected to be after a torrid 2010/11 season; some might not like the sound of it, but, in this form, he’ll soon displace Rio Ferdinand permanently once the 33-year-old decides to quit.
(In the case of Ferdinand, he has assumed the added responsibility in the absence of Nemanja Vidic in such an encouraging manner that any thoughts of retirement will have to be cooled for another few years.)
The threat Holt poses to defenders is very real and United must be fearful. “Holt is a big strong boy,” says a wary Evans. “I think he has played in every division. He will be pretty fired up for a real battle.” Leicester City’s Richie Wellens, ex-United, praised the player and made some interesting points a few weeks back that ties in well with his potential battle with Evans: “You have to be clever as a defender not to be suckered in to what he is trying to do.” One criticism that continues to haunt Evans is that he falters under pressure, and gets bullied far too often. Wellens adds: “If you let him bully you, he will do. And when he gets a chance, he’s a good finisher.” As intelligent a player as Evans is, which remains seldom lauded, Holt’s very own variety can be a decisive factor in the game. Make no mistake, this will not be easy for Evans, or United, and so if a certain man gets on the scoresheet, we can see no end to the infectious ‘Holtmania’. In parts of East Anglia, anyway.