By Chris Dunlavy
Karlan Grant, Huddersﬁeld’s 16-goal top scorer, endured a frustrating afternoon in the Terriers recent 2-0 defeat at Elland Road. No goals. One shot.
By the end of 90 minutes, he’d actually registered more touches in his own 18-yard box than that of opponents Leeds.
Yet as Terriers boss Danny Cowley conceded afterwards, Huddersfield had faced the best side in the division at the peak of their powers. For Grant, there is no shame in being suffocated by Leeds. Nor, by the same token, are his many admirers likely to be dissuaded. Don’t be suffocated by the closing hours of your local bookies by heading online with these Football Betting Odds 24/7.
A £15m target for Wolves and Crystal Palace during the January transfer window, Grant – who scored four goals in 14 top-flight games last term – is destined for a Premier League return.
“He’ll get there, and he’ll grace that level for many years to come,” said Cowley last month. “I have no doubt about that.”
But where will he play? That is the conundrum faced by whichever manager wins the battle for Grant’s services, just as it has been for Cowley.
Signed by Charlton at the age of 12, Grant is described by Steve Avory, the Addicks’ academy manager, as the best goalscorer he’s ever coached. But Grant’s deployment in wide positions by a succession of first-team managers stymied his development at The Valley.
By the time he joined Crawley on loan in January 2018, he had found the net just four times in as many years. Yet handed an extended run up front by Harry Kewell, Grant scored nine times in 15 games for the League Two side.
A further 14 in 29 under new Charlton boss Lee Bowyer then sealed a £2m move to Huddersfield in January last year.
“I’ve always said I see Karlan as a striker,” insisted Bowyer. “If you play him out wide he’s got to beat three or four to get a shot off.
“You play him up top and he’s only got to beat one. His movement and pace in and around the 18-yard box is scary for a defender. He’s got two good feet. Great finishing. He’s got everything you need to be a striker.”
Conversion complete? Not so.
This season, Grant has flitted between a central striking role and a berth on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 – yet still returned the most prolific figures of his career.
And contrary to Bowyer’s assertion, the underlying stats would appear to confirm that Grant is equally – if not marginally more – effective cutting in from wide.
So far, the 22-year-old has played 15 games as a striker and 18 wide left (plus one as a No.10). Excluding penalties, he has scored at an identical rate of 0.4 goals per game in both positions.
Other figures tell a similar tale. Assists are 0.1 per game in both roles. Up front, he delivers 1.1 accurate crosses and 1.2 key passes; from out wide, it is 1.3 and 1.5. Curiously, he has taken more shots per game – 3.1 versus 2.1 – as a winger.
Consideration must be given to the fact that five of his starts as a forward came prior to the arrival of Danny and Nicky Cowley, when the team as a whole created significantly fewer chances. Equally, Bowyer viewed Grant’s ability to lose markers as a weakness and worked to help him avoid physical battles with centre-backs.
His efficacy from wide areas, then, may stem from his ability to receive possession in deep positions, use his pace to fashion scoring chances and eliminate the need to play with his back to goal. Such is his threat that he can also help to pin back otherwise attacking full-backs.
Whatever the case, Grant has hit the target with a greater percentage of his shots (64) than any other player in the division and performed roughly in line with an xG of 17.3.
Those numbers, combined with youth, pace and versatility across the front line, are why he is a man in demand.