Prolific Glenn Murray is ready for shot at big time
Crystal Palace striker returns to his old club today as Championship's leading scorer and hoping to make the grade in Premier League
Football loves a goalscorer, and those who are prolific in the Championship can generally look forward to an upgrade in status and wages. Finishing as top scorer at that level is frequently a passport to the Premier League, either through promotion or a transfer.
Yet our panel above shows how hard those players have found life at the higher level. Ricky Lambert and Danny Graham both managed double figures after going up with Southampton and Swansea respectively, though Graham has struggled badly this season.
It is almost 10 years since Andrew Johnson came close to matching his own scoring exploits with a similar ratio at the higher level for Crystal Palace, becoming an England international in the process. Now Selhurst Park has found a new hero, all the more popular in that he cost nothing from Palace's unloved rivals Brighton, whom they visit today in a key Championship game. Glenn Murray's 29 League goals in 33 games make him currently the leading scorer in not just his own division but the whole country.
He was allowed to leave Brighton at the end of his contract two summers ago despite having scored 22 times, and at Palace managed a mere half-dozen in his first season. Yet at the age of 29 he has suddenly flourished again in this campaign.
"I was disappointed," he says of that first season as an Eagle rather than a Seagull, offering as an explanation: "We played a different way under Dougie Freedman, we were more of a counterattacking team. I'm not saying that didn't suit me but this season we're a bit more attacking-minded and the goals, luckily enough, have come. You're always dependent on the service you get and we play with wing-men and a man in the 'pocket', so when those guys find me it helps my game and my goal ratio a lot."
Holding on to Wilfried Zaha for the rest of the season after Manchester United paid some £10 million for the mercurial young winger has clearly helped as well. "The price tag says it all, a fantastic football player who I'm sure will go on to bigger and better things," is Murray's view.
Joining his young team-mate in the Premier League next season is now on the cards, which would be quite something for a down-to-earth northerner whose most glamorous stint in 10 years as a professional player was to spend three summers in North Carolina while he was on loan from Workington.
"I was playing with the brother of David Irving, an old Everton and Oldham player who was in America, and I was asked to go out there for the summer, which was a real good experience for an 18-year-old.
"Then I moved to Carlisle and, to be honest, I learnt my trade there. It was a lot different after America and it took me a while to learn the game after being non-League."
An almost permanent substitute as Carlisle won the Conference and League Two in successive seasons, he was given a first glimpse of something like the big time when coming on in front of 42,000 at the Millennium Stadium in the final of the Football League Trophy against Swansea, who won with a late goal.
Next it was Rochdale, where 3,000 was a good crowd and glamour was still in short supply, but Murray flourished alongside the current Reading forward Adam Le Fondre. At Spotland and ever since, he has averaged a goal every two games, passing his previous best for a single season several weeks ago and in line now for the best haul by any Championship player for 20 years.
His manager at Palace, Ian Hollo-way, calls him "a natural finisher", adding: "His football brain is as good as anybody I've ever worked with." Murray modestly assesses his own attributes as "trying to link play up with the rest of the team and trying to find space in the box".
When he scored twice against Brighton at Selhurst Park in December, Palace went to the top of the table. Although they have slipped behind Cardiff, Hull and Watford since then, they are nine points ahead of Brighton, who badly need a victory today to restore their own prospects of a play-off place.
Their manager, Gus Poyet, says of Murray: "He knows it would have been impossible for us to pay what Palace were paying at that time. I will always be grateful to Glenn because he helped us in an unbelievable way to get promoted, then he needed to look after his family. He wanted to stay, without any doubt."
Still living on the South Coast, Murray is reluctant to say much about today's game for fear of provoking a backlash, but he is not afraid to consider the possibility of joining English football's elite next season.
"Obviously all players want to play in the Premier League, and that's the aim. We've got to be looking at automatic promotion, although I'm sure there'll be twists and turns in the last nine games. Promotion's the aim and that's what matters, not me finishing top scorer in the League."
Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace is today, kick-off 12pm
Whatever happened to the Championship's top scorers?
2012-13 to date 29 goals
Murray has already scored more League goals this campaign than anyone has managed in an entire Championship season since Lee Hughes's 31 for West Bromwich Albion in 1998-99.
2011-12 27 goals
Lambert stayed with Southampton after promotion to the top flight and went on to join an elite list of players who have scored in all four English divisions. He scored on his Premier League debut against Manchester City as a substitute, and has now reached double figures again.
2010-11 24 goals
After securing a move to the Premier League with Swansea, Graham struggled to match his exploits in the Championship, scoring only 12 times. This season, after finding himself down the pecking order under Swansea's new manager Michael Laudrup, he was sold to Sunderland in January for £5 million with only three League goals to his name.
Nicky Maynard & Peter Whittingham
Bristol City & Cardiff City
2009-10 20 goals each
For the rest of his time at Bristol City Maynard was hampered by injury. He signed for West Ham in 2012, helping them win promotion to the Premier League, but was sold to Cardiff, where he tore a cruciate ligament. Whittingham is still a regular for leaders Cardiff but has only seven goals this season.
2007-08 23 goals
2008-09 25 goals
After two prolific seasons, Ebanks-Blake struggled in a poor Wolves side in the Premier League. He managed only 10 goals in two years at the higher level but is in double figures this season.
2006-07 23 goals
After signing for Norwich at the end of the season, Cureton had loan spells at Barnsley and Shrewsbury before leaving Carrow Road in 2010 for Exeter. He was top-scorer with 20 League goals but left for Leyton Orient. Back at Exeter this season aged 37, he has 20 goals.
2005-06 21 goals
After he helped Watford gain promotion King stayed on for their season in the Premier League, then joined Wigan. He scored one goal before being loaned to Hull, then Middlesbrough. In October 2009, having returned to Wigan, he was sacked after being jailed for sexual assault. He then signed for Coventry and Birmingham, scoring 16 goals last season.
2004-05 24 goals
After his partnership with Jason Roberts earned Wigan promotion, Ellington signed for West Bromwich Albion for around £3m but has only managed 10 goals in a season once since then. Unsuccessful at Watford, he had a number of loans, most recently with Crewe.
2003-04 27 goals
Palace were relegated in 2004-05 but Johnson was the highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League with 21 goals and became an England player. After one more season with Palace in the Championship he became Everton's most expensive signing, then joined Fulham and QPR. Often affected by injury, his best tally since leaving Palace was 11 for Everton.
2002-03 26 goals
Another player badly affected by injury, the Bulgarian was never the same after damaging a knee soon after his record season. He played only one game in the following two years and was loaned to Wigan beore joining Charlton and suffering another knee injury. Since then he has played in Bulgaria and Ukraine with only moderate success.
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