The Crystal Palace striker's lofty place in the scoring charts among Europe's elite is testimony to a revelatory season
Glenn Murray laughs it off as a quirk, something too freakish to contemplate, but deep down he must be glowing. The scoring charts for the top two divisions across Europe's five leading leagues sandwich him in between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Radamel Falcao next in pursuit of that trio.
"It's a little bit false given they're all playing in top leagues and I'm in the second tier in England, albeit as strong a second tier as there is," he says. "So it's hardly a fair comparison." Yet the pause that follows, giving way as it does to a chuckle, reveals the Cumbrian at Crystal Palace is tickled to be nestled in among such lofty company.
His presence, even in a table drawn up on fairly exacting criteria, is testimony to what has been a revelatory season for both Murray and Palace, who travel to Derby on Friday knowing a first away win since mid-November will thrust them a point from second place. It feels preposterous to suggest a player who has scored 27 goals in 30 league games might still be catching the Championship unawares, but so much of the focus in a refreshingly attack-minded team is hogged by the extravagant skills of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie, and of late the young Welshman Jonathan Williams, that the focal point has often gone ignored.
Murray, at 29, is in his second season at this level after a nomadic career that has taken him from Carlisle to North Carolina, but when Roy Hodgson visited Selhurst Park to witness the dismissal of Middlesbrough two weekends ago he will have noted more than merely Zaha's blistering ability. Murray appears to be this season's Grant Holt or Rickie Lambert, a player backed up by a weight of experience accrued in the lower leagues and now eagerly seizing an opportunity to make his mark at the higher level.
He is strong in the air, two-footed and instinctive in the finish but, where he might lack explosive pace, canny movement ekes space from markers. His manager, Ian Holloway, has labelled him "exceptional" and "phenomenal", a player "at the peak of his powers". Certainly his scoring has taken the breath away. There have been two hat-tricks and eight doubles this season, the variety of his plunder summed up by the two goals registered against Boro: the first a tap-in from Zaha's deflected cross, all anticipation as he loitered at the far post; the second crunched beyond Jason Steele from 25 yards. He followed those up with a glorious volley on the run from a quickly taken free-kick against Bristol City three days later.
The forward cites the supply line as key to his prolific form, modestly ignoring the reality his presence and movement allows others the space in which to revel. "I've always said that, if the chances came, I'd score goals and we've had an abundance this year," he says. "I've got talented players all around me: Wilfried has gone to Manchester United for £15m; Yannick has created for fun; then there's André [Moritz], Owen [Garvan], Stephen Dobbie, and now Jonny Williams, who will go on to bigger and better things. All I have to do is concentrate on losing my man and I know the delivery will come. The new gaffer, too, is more forward-thinking and that's helped as well. I'm benefiting from all of it.
"People mentioned Roy [Hodgson] had been at the Middlesbrough game, but it's pretty obvious to me he was there for one reason, and that was Wilfried. We're talking about the second division in English football, here, even if I did have quite a good game. A few seasons back Jay Bothroyd was called up when he was at Cardiff, but at the time maybe there was a shortage of English strikers in the Premier League scoring goals and doing well. These days, that's changed. There are a lot of players similar to me, like Holt and Lambert, and they'd be fuming if I was called up ahead of them given they're doing their stuff at the higher level. What their progress means, though, is that anything is possible. They came through the lower divisions and did well in the Championship, and now look at them. And my old strike partner at Stockport, Adam le Fondre, isn't doing too badly now, either."
Like that trio, Murray's has not been an overnight transformation. Born in Maryport he had excelled at Workington Reds as a teenager but his fledgling career was meandering when he opted to join the former Everton player David Irving, manager of the United Soccer League Second Division club Wilmington Hammerheads, in North Carolina. The club effectively competed two divisions below Major League Soccer, turning out at the 6,000 capacity Legion stadium. "I'd played Saturday football for Davey's brother in Cumbria, and he offered me the trial," recalls Murray. "We'd get 3,000 or so to home games and were the best supported team at the time, but it was purely about playing football professionally. I'd been kicking around in non-league at home for ages and wanted to test myself. I went there to make it over here, if you see what I mean, so I'd play in the States from March to September and then join up late with Workington back home.
"I learned from it. I was out of my comfort zone, playing in baking hot conditions so you didn't want to be chasing the ball all afternoon. You had to keep it, make the other lot work. The whole thing was a life lesson, and it's been a progression ever since: back in England with Barrow, then the promotions with Carlisle [from the Conference and then League Two in successive years], and Rochdale. That's a good breeding ground, Spotland, when you think that Holt, Lambert, Le Fondre and Chris Dagnall, who's doing well at Barnsley, all also had time there. I've learned as I've gone on, bringing my game on, and scored goals at every level."
There were 22 in Brighton & Hove Albion's League One title-winning campaign before Palace lured him to south London under the Bosman ruling, a defection to bitter rivals that established him as a cult figure from the start at Selhurst Park. Last season proved a toil, a goal at the Amex stadium and the headed extra-time winner at Old Trafford the highlights as he sought to find his feet. Certainly, a 19-game goal drought between mid-December and April opened his eyes to the brutality of the division.
"It's such a harsh league and it took me time to learn to play up front in it. The manager at the time (Dougie Freedman) was looking for us to be solid rather than expansive, and there were times when I was stood up front on my own, outnumbered by defenders who had seen it and done it over the years. I guess I lacked self-belief and got downhearted by it all but I've come out of the other side stronger. These days I've changed my mentality. I'm more positive, believing I'm going to score all the time."
At present he is, with talks ongoing over a new contract even if immediate objectives centre on ending a 10-game winless run away from home at Pride Park night. "We'll never be in a better position to get promoted," he says. "But we're fourth in the table on merit. As for the 'other' table, the one with Messi and Ronaldo, well, let's be honest, I'm just honoured."