For every Grant Holt, there's a Derek Hales. Why buying a lower-league striker is a shot in the dark...

The Weekend Dossier
  • @GlennMoore7

Grant Holt was an overnight success in the Premier League last season, "overnight" being a 12-year career which encompassed every division in the Football League, the Northern Premier League and a spell in Singapore before arriving at Norwich City.

If his beautifully taken goal at Eastlands last weekend is any guide, Rickie Lambert could be a similar "overnight" success this season. It followed 118 goals in 204 appearances for Bristol Rovers and Southampton in the last four seasons for the 30-year-old Scouser.

Similarly prolific in recent years is a third former Rochdale striker, Adam Le Fondre, who scored a nerveless last-minute penalty to earn a draw for Reading against Stoke last weekend on his Premier League bow.

These three players each spent the best part of a decade in the lower divisions before reaching the top flight the same way most British managers do, by gaining promotion into it. It makes one wonder, as the transfer window approaches a frenzied final week, how many more matchwinners are out there toiling past the midnight hour on the Football League Show when they could be headlining on Match of the Day?

Not very many of this summer's transfers are any guide. To date top-flight clubs have signed 20 strikers. Sixteen have been foreigners either from overseas or other Premier League clubs. The native quartet are: veteran Andrew Johnson, who swapped Fulham for QPR; Crewe teenager Nick Powell, who is now at Manchester United: Jay Rodriguez, 23, who moved from Burnley to newly-promoted Southampton; and Steven Fletcher, who yesterday returned to the top flight when he left relegated Wolves for Sunderland. Of these, only Rodriguez has been a Championship regular and he is a player who has been bought for his potential as much as for the 29 league goals he has scored in the last two seasons.

The player who has scored most goals outside the Premier League in recent years is Jordan Rhodes, Huddersfield's prolific 22-year-old. Since Roy Keane sold him from Ipswich, Rhodes has scored 85 goals in 146 matches for the Terriers. These figures include penalties such as his midweek equaliser against Nottingham Forest but they are nevertheless impressive. Rhodes has also scored eight goals in as many games for Scotland's under-21 side and one in one start for the full national side. Yet while there have been some enquiries, Huddersfield owner Dean Hoyle has not spent the summer knocking back bids.

Why? Surely goalscorers are the most in-demand players in the game and Rhodes is clearly a natural. The sticking point would appear to be the fee. As is underlined by Fletcher's £12m price tag, more than Arsenal have paid for Lukas Podolski (a player with 44 international goals for Germany) there is a British premium. Huddersfield want £6m for Rhodes and few clubs are prepared to gamble that on a player whose goals have mainly come in the third tier.

This is expensive even for a Briton. Saints paid the same for Rodriguez, who has been playing at a higher level, Blackburn gave Newcastle half as much for Leon Best, 25, scorer of 10 Premier League goals last season. If, come January, Rhodes has scored a dozen Championship goals, Hoyle will be able to enjoy a bidding war for his striker's services. If he has scored just a couple of spot-kicks, scouts will be nodding sagely and telling their managerial bosses, "told you so".

Picking goalscorers is an inexact science. Two years ago Adel Taarabt and Jay Bothroyd scored 39 goals between them for QPR and Cardiff in the Championship. Last season, united at QPR, they managed two each. Izale MacLeod has scored regularly in the lower divisions with MK Dons and Barnet. At a higher level, with Derby and Charlton, he struggled.

Remember Jonathan Stead? When Graeme Souness plucked him from then fourth-tier Huddersfield for £1m in the January 2004 transfer window, he scored six goals in 13 Premier League games for Blackburn and everyone wondered how many other bargains were out there? He scored two in 29 the following season and has since played for seven clubs in seven seasons only reaching double figures once, scoring 12 for Ipswich four years ago. He has had a decent career, but not what he imagined in 2004.

It was always thus. Derek Hales terrorised defences for Charlton in the Seventies, but struggled after a big-money move to top-flight Derby County. Yet in the same decade Malcolm MacDonald was as prolific at Newcastle United and Arsenal as he had been at Luton Town.

MacDonald had more about him than Hales, who was largely a penalty-box predator, dependent on service. Other players have failed to make the step up because they are too slow or too slight, too distracted by off-field matters (the new status and wealth goes to their head) or simply lack the self-belief required to belong in such exalted company.

Sometimes they are simply not ready. Lambert freely admits his career did not take off until he left his old life behind in Liverpool and focused on his trade as a footballer. It has taken him a long time to get to the top, but, like Holt, and perhaps Le Fondre, he may have timed his arrival with the elite as perfectly as he times his arrival into the penalty box.

Five Asides

1. It won't be a mare for Owen if he doesn't find a new club

If, this time next week, Michael Owen is on the gallops rather than the training pitch, it will confirm the suspicion that one of the finest goalscorers of the era has fallen out of love with the game. Stoke are interested, but that seems an odd fit while his boyhood club Everton do not seem to have any great need of him. That Owen's priority seems to be a club in commuting distance of his stables perhaps tells suitors all they need to know. Footballers are a long time retired, it will be a pity if Owen quits at 32.

2. Spurs to lead way in last-minute transfer action

The transfer window will not be the same without Harry Redknapp winding down his car window at the training ground entrance to explain he will not be signing anyone, then buying four players. Fortunately for Sky Sports, Tottenham look set to be wheeling and dealing just the same and with QPR and Liverpool shopping frantically, Jim White should still be approaching meltdown come 11pm on Friday.

3. Time to get shirty about some of this season's kits

There was much to admire about Southampton's performance at the champions on Sunday, but not their shirts. What happened to the Saints' famous stripes? The following night Manchester United sent their team out in tablecloths to face an Everton side whose cuffs were so long players in short-sleeves appeared to be wearing a blue-and-white version of Arsenal's strip (talking of which, where has the Gunners' blue trim come from?). Honestly, how do these designs get passed? For sheer chutzpah though you have to admire Stoke's new second strip: red-and-blue Barcelona stripes.

4. Will the Pozzos stir up a Hornets' nest at Watford?

Watford have pulled out of the Premier League's new Under-21 development league, reduced their successful academy to category 3 level, and signed seven players on loan from their owners' other clubs, Udinese and Granada. The Pozzo experiment might bear fruit, it has worked at the family's other football interests, but supporters could be forgiven for having reservations.

5. QPR's owners are over the top with their Kenny anger

Player forced out of club sends mickey-taking message to former coach after his replacement makes a mistake. Petty? Yes. Worthy of his old club demanding his new one launch an investigation? Hardly. QPR's outraged response to Paddy Kenny's ill-advised late-night texting is precious indeed. The affair is a storm in a pint-pot compared to Kevin Pietersen's text betrayal of his own team-mates.

Team news

Swansea v West Ham

Odds: Home 11-10 Draw 23-10 Away 13-5

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Chico Flores (groin) will undergo a late test for Swansea, with Alan Tate and Garry Monk standing by. West Ham include new signing Matt Jarvis, but Jack Collison (knee) remains out.

Aston Villa v Everton

Odds: Home 2-1 Draw 9-4 Away 11-8

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Nathan Delfouneso (thigh) returns for Aston Villa, but Gabriel Agbonlahor (knee) and Richard Dunne (groin) remain out. Everton may include new striker Kevin Mirallas, while Sylvain Distin (back) and Nikica Jelavic (groin) are doubts.

Man United v Fulham

Odds: Home 2-7 Draw 9-2 Away 10-1

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Robin van Persie may make his first start for Manchester United, although Alexander Buttner will probably start on the bench. Fulham are still without Clint Dempsey, although Zdenek Grygera (knee) returns to Martin Jol's squad.

Norwich v QPR

Odds: Home 5-4 Draw 12-5 Away 11-5

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Elliott Bennett (knee) is out for Norwich, but Sébastien Bassong and Javier Garrido could make debuts. Queen's Park Rangers could also make changes from their opening day defeat, with defender Jose Bosingwa in contention.

Southampton v Wigan

Odds: Home 11-10 Draw 12-5 Away 5-2

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Southampton's main injury concern is Jack Cork, who remains troubled by an ankle complaint. Jean Beausejour (soft tissue) will undergo a late check, along with midfielders James McArthur (back) and Shaun Maloney (leg).

Sunderland v Reading

Odds: Home 5-6 Draw 5-2 Away 7-2

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Steven Fletcher could make his Sunderland debut after joining from Wolves yesterday but Wes Brown (knee) and Phil Bardsley (ankle) remain out. Reading have no new worries, with Jason Roberts returning from suspension.

Tottenham v WBA

Odds: Home 1-2 Draw 3-1 Away 6-1

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Younes Kaboul (knee) is out for Spurs, so Jan Vertonghen could make his debut. Emmanuel Adebayor is also included. West Bromwich Albion may welcome back Graham Dorrans (family), while Markus Rosenberg competes for a striking berth.

Chelsea v Newcastle

Odds: Home 1-2 Draw 100-30 Away 11-2

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news John Terry (neck) is out for Chelsea, but David Luiz (knee) returns to replace him. Newcastle will give tests to Fabricio Coloccini (thigh) and Demba Ba (shin), but Cheick Tioté (calf) is out.

Stoke v Arsenal

Odds: Home 5-2 Draw 12-5 Away 11-10

Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Dean Whitehead is suspended for Stoke but Jermaine Pennant (thigh) returns. Arsenal miss Laurent Koscielny (calf) and Wojciech Szczesny (rib) is a doubt, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is included.

Liverpool v Man City

Odds: Home 2-1 Draw 12-5 Away 11-8

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Liverpool recall a number of first-teamers following Thursday's win at Hearts, but Daniel Agger is banned. Striker Sergio Aguero (knee) is out for a month for Manchester City.