It’s not a bad time to be a City fan is it? Thousands of fans pouring to the stadium every week with League Football back on the menu. We’re tucked comfortably into the middle of the pack, not far enough off the play offs to be worried and not close enough to the bottom three to envisage a year of struggle.
The squad might be light on numbers but it is packed with quality, even with a lack of bodies our manager has a selection headache ad that is testament to the ability of those few we do have. We’re only one or two little tweaks away from a top-seven side in my humble opinion.
However, we always find something to have a little grumble about and recently many fans have complained about a lack of fire power up front. With our array of quality wide players and the two excellent midfielders we have, surely we should be able to grab a few more goals? I’ve (rather surprisingly) heard some criticism of Matt Green too, some have said he’s not an out-and-out goal scorer and that is what we need. I beg to disagree.
Nobody is questioning Green’s ability, but some don’t feel he’s the natural goal scorer that he came labelled as in the summer. He works as hard as any centre forward we’ve seen at the Bank, but that isn’t what his game is all about. He is, I assure you, a predator, a player that always has a goal in him. Granted, he’s struggled for them this season so far, but I think I know why and if I’m right, we might just be about to see a change in his fortunes.
In the early part of the season he was partnered with the big man, Mr Rhead. I love Matt, he’s a battering ram and a monster, he irritates the opposition and bullies them incessantly. What he does not do though is offer a level of support to a mobile striker, especially not since we’ve stepped up into the Football League. He still has a part to play but I sense it will be in the Checkatrade Trophy and coming off the bench.
His inclusion in those first few games did leave Matt Green looking isolated, although he scored a couple of goals early doors he hasn’t been on fire. Currently Lee Angol, his Mansfield replacement, is out scoring him. I don’t know Matt all that well, but I do know he’ll want to address that quickly. In order to do so he needs someone playing up there with him that can be involved in a phase of play twice, setting it up and joining in as support. Matt, for all his qualities, often struggles to keep up with the pace of the game. Being honest, when was the last time we saw him run with the ball? If he gets it the other players do the running, and whilst that was all well and good last season, it doesn’t cut the mustard in the big leagues.
Recently Green has found himself partnered with Ollie Palmer, and despite the fact we’ve been winning games I feel the goal threat has come almost exclusively from Harry Anderson. I know Palmer scored a cracker against Barnet, but Anderson has been running the show. He laid on Michael Bostwick, he crossed for the OG in the same game and he scored against Barnet. Matt Green has worked tirelessly but hasn’t really had a clear-cut chance. He’s down on confidence but his shoulders haven’t dropped and he’s continued to put the running in, just in case he gets a break.
I’m not sure Ollie Palmer is the right partner for him either. Ollie is more mobile, that I concede, but he is also a typical centre forward: he’s greedy. I don’t mean that detrimentally, any striker should want a goal or two, but there was a moment against Chesterfield when he twisted and turned looking for an opening with Matt Green in a great position to his right. The ball should have been played, but like any predatory forward player he had one thing on his mind. I might even suggest he is too similar to Matt, and although Ollie turned in a decent performance against Barnet it wasn’t as part of a slick front two.
I may get some stick for suggesting that two centre forward’s can’t play together, but I’m not sure that is the partnership we need either, not if we’re going to see Green amongst the goals. He needs one of two type of players around him. The first type of player he needs is someone like Ollie Hawkins or Simeon Akinola, a player who will do half of his running so he can find those pockets of space he exploited so well at Mansfield last season. They’re also big lads and can win headers in front of the 18-yard line and then join back up with play for the second phase. If he had a player willing to do that he could cut down on his own channel-churning and maybe get back to doing what he does best.
We know that isn’t going to happen though, not until January anyway. Fear not; I think the other type of player he needs is now ready and raring to prove a point. Step forward Billy Knott.
Bill is a midfield player who plays as a natural ten. He doesn’t have that same single-minded approach that Palmer does, he’ll perhaps play deeper looking to find Green with a key pass. He certainly wouldn’t hesitate to spread the ball right or left if he needs to either, fancy passing is his bread and butter. He’s already been amongst the goals too, and now more than ever he has something to prove. We’ve not even seen a quarter of what Billy Knott can do and the injustice of his enforced lay off should spur him on.
Those first 30 minutes against Notts County I thought we looked great. Green spurned one or two good chances, but at least he got into the positions to take them. I genuinely believe if you give Matt Green many more clear-cut efforts he will take one, and once he gets one I suspect he’ll grab a few. Had Knott stayed on the pitch (and I’m not whining here) I think we would have got point at County at the very least. It was the first time he’d gotten into the ten role after starting out wide and I don’t think Imps fans entirely realise what a massive set back his three match ban was to our overall game plan.
I’m not saying everything is going to click in an instant on Saturday, but I am saying after 12 games of the season I think Knott / Green is the best partnership I’ve seen, despite only getting thirty minutes together. It does mean a slight change of approach from the other players, those raking balls into the channels might not be as frequent, but if they are it’ll be looking for Green to lay it back to Bill and then find the cracks in the Cambridge armour. It will mean a less direct approach, but perhaps Bostwick taking up the more advanced positions on Saturday against Chesterfield was a warm-up for him being more involved at that end of the field? The subtle swap between him and Woodyard wasn’t entirely noticeable, but Alex is more comfortable when he’s the slightly deeper midfielder. Bozzie brings the height and strength that we maybe lack in the forward areas, and whilst he won’t be as advanced a Bill he might just offer something going forward in the same vein as he did on Saturday.
I do get a little wound up when I hear the conversations about us needing a goal scorer, although I do concede another centre forward w would be nice in January. However, January is three months away yet and all the bleating social media won’t change that. Matt Green is the highest profile striker I can remember us signing in my life time, and he hasn’t come here purely with a reputation for running channels. He scores goals, he might not have as many as he’d like so far, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the answer to our scoring problem. If (and I grant you, it’s a big if) Bill comes into the side and fulfils the potential that oozes from every pore, and if Matt is freed up to hunt space in front of goal rather than the channels at the side of it, we might finally give someone the pasting we’ve been threatening ever since Morecambe. Carlisle aside we’ve not scored as many goals as our hard work and number of chances warrants, but I firmly believe the ingredients are all there. We just need Chef Danny to mix them in the right way, and I feel we might get the dish we deserve on Saturday afternoon.