SIMON Charlton reckons Kevin Davies is just as important to Wanderers now as he ever was.

In a week when the Whites skipper has come in for heavy criticism in some quarters for his physical style, Charlton believes it is exactly that combative approach that still makes him invaluable to Owen Coyle’s cause.

Davies’s tackle on Tom Cleverley last weekend left the Manchester United youngster facing three weeks on the sidelines, and made the Wanderers striker the topic of conversation the length and breadth of the land.

Some have even speculated his place in the side against Norwich tomorrow afternoon could be in jeopardy– but that is not a view shared by his former team-mate Charlton, who has picked out the battle of two target men as the highlight of an intriguing game.

“Both teams play good football but you’ve got to be able to change things around when they aren’t working, and players like Davo and Grant Holt allow you that,” said the former Reebok defender, who amassed more than 100 games between 2000 and 2004 under Sam Allardyce.

“I think Bolton have been a breath of fresh air under Owen Coyle who seems to have given the lads a lot of self-belief.

“But for all that, you’ve still got Davo there, the stalwart, who is so effective when you go a little bit more direct.

“I think both teams are quite alike in that respect and as a defender, you know you’re in for a tough time.

“Those kind of players are so important because they hold the ball up, create chances for other players and knock you off your stride.”

Fuelled by Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-match rant after Wanderers 5-0 defeat to United last week, the reaction to Davies’s fourth-minute tackle on Cleverley last weekend was nothing short of severe.

Had it not been against a United player, claims Charlton, it would have barely got a mention.

“I know he’s under the spotlight a bit at the moment, but Kevin Davies makes tackles like that week-in, week-out,” he said.

“Sir Alex Ferguson is bound to be disappointed, firstly because it’s Kevin, and managers always tend to get hot around the collar with him, but secondly because the lad had been playing so well.

“It’s unfortunate he got injured but to suggest there was any malice on Kev’s part is silly, really.

“He makes those kind of challenges in training, believe me, and it feels like you’ve been hit by a brick wall.

“But there isn’t a hint of nastiness about it. I’ve watched it back in slow motion a hundred times and he just went for the ball.”

While Davies has come under fire for his foul count down the years, it currently pales in comparison to that of Canaries hitman Grant Holt.

The much-travelled 30-year-old has scored at every level of the Football League but his uncompromising approach promises to ruffle the feathers of many a Premier League defender, claims Charlton, who also played for two seasons at Carrow Road after leaving the Reebok.

“I thought Grant would struggle at this level but he’s taken to it like a fish to water. I think he’s a more natural finisher, even though Davo obviously has the edge in terms of experience at the very top level.”

Charlton still lives in Norwich, where he currently works as a coach for the Global Soccer Network, which looks after the interests of several UK-based African players, and a host of up-and-coming talents.

His first foray into management came with non league Mildenhall Town but ended last year, despite the fact the former defender had earned them a top-six finish and their best-ever run in the FA Cup.

Now, the 39-year-old - who boasts nearly 600 career appearances - is keeping his options open after gaining his UEFA A licence.

“I tried to get back on the ladder for a bit,” he said. “But getting a non league job is even harder than one at Football League level.

“I gave Sam (Allardyce) a ring to see if I could get anything with him but at the moment I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”