Coming in as the fourth of my Player of the Year candidates is ‘the big man’, Matt Rhead. He’s the striker opposition fans love to hate, he even divides opinion amongst our own fans at times. One thing is for sure though, he has contributed significantly to our excellent season.
I always say if opposition fans hate (and I mean really hate) your striker, then he must be doing something right. I think of the strikers I dislike from other teams, they’re always the ones that usually score past us. Rheady gets stick up and down the country for his size and his style of play, but time and time again he gets the last laugh.
He started this season in blistering form, and although the goals haven’t flowed as freely as he might like all season, he has been a massive influence on the pitch. His decision to stay in the close season was a coup of sorts for Danny and Nicky, and the turnaround from want-away striker to leader of our attack helped further cement him as a fans favourite. Of course you don’t just get the accolade of fans favourite, you earn it.
Matt Rhead has earned it hands down. He scores goals, he unsettles defenders and he can hold the ball up like no other. His apparent lack of mobility often draws derision, but if it was a hinderance he wouldn’t keep getting named in the squad. If anything his physique is one of the reasons he deserves the admiration, because for a big man he actually has a wonderful touch.
I love the confusion on opposition fans faces when they’re barracking the big lump up front, then he kills a long ball dead on the floor and lays off a subtle reverse pass. The Forest Green fans were berating him at their place in November, but he had the awareness and technical ability to flick a throw in on, first time, via a volleyed back heel. Luke Waterfall blasted home our equaliser, the rest is history.
How many times this season has one of our chances immediately followed a Matt Rhead flick on? How many of our gaols have resulted from an unsettled defender buckling under pressure from our behemoth centre forward? How many times has this so-called monster of a man produced a flick or a lay off that wouldn’t be out of place in the Premier League? Sure if he could do that and run faster at the same time he’d be playing football much higher up.
Matt Rhead has skills which people don’t attribute to such a robust and damaging centre forward. York and FGR fans did him a disservice when singing ‘you’re just a shit Jon Parkin’ at him. He’s scored more National League goals than Parkin has, and he’s had a much more positive effect on the club than any that Parkin has played at. The song should perhaps be sung at Parkin, and it should go ‘you’re just an over rated Matt Rhead’.
Aside from his hidden skills and his obvious physical presence, Rheady also has the sort of personality that you either love or loath. He’s an irritant on the pitch, he indulges in a few of the dark arts at times. For a big fella he goes down easily, but more often than not he does draw a foul. Often you’ll see two defenders on him, and that means space elsewhere for players such as Nathan Arnold or more recently Lee Angol.
Matt Rhead is hard to ignore for the POTY awards, in fact he’s hard to ignore full stop. He is permanently pumped full of adrenalin, whether it’s flexing his muscles in front of the away fans when he scores, or standing in front of the keeper at an attacking free kick, jumping up and down to restrict his view. His contribution when he has the ball played into him is significant, but he has the unique attributes to be able to contribute even when he doesn’t have the ball, just by being an irritating and aggravating bastard. That’s why we love him, because he’s so bloody good at it. Just ask Joey Barton.
Early season, before we’d seen what the league looked like from the top spot, and well before we’d been on series link on BT Sports, there was the matter of a game away at Torquay. It was our first TV appearance, and in truth we didn’t play brilliantly. The game was end to end, but we weren’t quite on method. One man was though, and that man was Matt Rhead. His brace included a second minute penalty and a superb last minute winner despite his heavily bandaged head. His attitude and desire that evening gave us an indication of what might be to come from the whole team, but he led from the front with a typically ‘Rheady’ display.
A rejuvenated and revitalised Woking arrived at Sincil Bank with many of the faithful expecting an easy win. Even their full-back Jake Caprice had said they didn’t expect to take points from the top clubs. What we got was an enthralling match with five goals, City winning 3-2. The big man was at his unplayable best, bagging a brace to take his tally for the season against the Cards to four. His first gave us an early lead which was cancelled out, his second was our third and it sealed the points despite a wobbly final ten minutes. It was another typical outing for Rheady, holding the ball up superbly and aggravating the Woking defence. At the end of the season wins like this will have been crucial, and this one was once again courtesy of a Matt Rhead double.
A recent one I know, but from the get-go it was clear Rheady was up for this game. He was once again at his unplayable best, winning everything in the air and putting himself about superbly. It was his hooked shot that Elliot Whitehouse eventually poked over the line to put City 1-0 up, and it was Rhead himself that sealed the victory. A corner was met with a header of such ferocity that it wouldn’t have mattered if the keeper had got near it, it would have taken him into the net with it. A pumped up Rheady then flexed his muscles in front of the Daggers fans that had taunted him about his size in defiance, a victory celebration born out of pure passion. This was a crucial game for Lincoln City, and once again our biggest player stood up to be counted.
It feels almost rude not to give a special mention to his dual with Joey Barton at Turf Moor. The Premiership player didn’t know how to handle our bustling front man and resorted to trying to stamp on his feet and feigning injury. Rhead played his role superbly, the no-nonsense non-league striker bemused by his illustrious opponents antics. His aerial clash with Barton went unnoticed, the one where he managed to leave in an elbow. Classic Matt Rhead, ready for a scrap just as much as he is ready to produce the sublime.
Photos by Graham Burrell