It always surprises me that some centre forwards become heroes, others seem to be constantly chastised and yet often, there is little between them. I respect everyone’s right to an opinion, but having seen and heard a few comments yesterday about John Akinde, I wanted to do a quick piece examining his virtues.
The background is this. we signed Akinde in the summer, a player who has scored 20 or more goals in three of his last four seasons. Last year he scored against us for Barnet and it’s widely believed he could have played Championship football had he made the right choices. He’s now wearing the red and white of Lincoln City with a contract that could, in theory, see him achieve that with us, although we’d need the football gods to smile favourably on us.
We’re nine league games into the season, John has scored five goals but is currently without a strike in three. That is causing him to become the focal point for some criticism, probably from the same people who were calling Matt Green everything under the sun last season. In both instances, I kept hearing the name ‘Matt Rhead’ mooted as a replacement. Yesterday I’m aware of posts at half time calling for the Big Man to come on. Big John off, Big Rheady on. It didn’t happen, Akinde assisted our leveller and I thought had his best game at Sincil Bank since signing.
I thought I’d take a look at the different aspects of John’s game, based on what we’ve seen so far, and see if the criticism is justified (which it isn’t, in case you can’t be arsed to read it all).
I’m not comparing players specifically here, but many have questioned whether Akinde is as good in the air as Matt Rhead. The answer is probably no. There’s been some criticism that he doesn’t get up high enough for headers or he doesn’t try hard enough to win them. The latter is laughable, genuinely. We have seen professional footballers seemingly not try at Lincoln, some we’re allowed to talk about (Gomez Dali) and some we’re not (…). To say that Akinde isn’t trying is utterly ridiculous.
His style is different to Rhead. When John goes up he perhaps doesn’t get the height, I suspect he’s often looking to bring the ball down rather than flick it on. There’s evidence of this being the tactic when you look at the partner we’ve played him with. Shay McCartan isn’t looking to get beyond Akinde, he’s usually a little deeper looking to receive the ball to feet. With Rheady, we’re always looking for a flick on which is when we’ve seen Matt Green as his partner. Green gets beyond, McCartan gets around.
Akinde is also looking to get the wingers into player but with a more precise pass rather than a flick on again. It is true, I haven’t seen him win as many headers as Rhead, but I don’t think his aerial prowess is any less. He certainly had an impact with his header across goal for McCartan’s finish and I think we’re seeing the start of a good partnership there.
Languid, ambling and measured were words I heard used yesterday to describe Akinde’s general movement, all of which might give the wrong impression. He has a top gear, but as a big unit he reserves it for when it is needed. You’ll not see John Akinde putting in a Bruno Andrade style Road Runner performance, nor will he chase every cause like Matt Green, but in the first half particularly I thought he shifted through the gears when he needed to. At 29 he’s never going to have explosive pace, but on the ball he is more Harry Anderson power than Bruno Andrade zip. No criticism again, but perhaps it is another area where he’s being judged on the other options. He doesn’t jump as well as Matt Rhead, he doesn’t move as well as Matt Green, but he moves a lot better than Matt Rhead and he’s a more powerful striker than Matt Green. Is the cup half full, or half empty?
We didn’t get to see a goal from John yesterday, but in patches he did look dangerous. Early in the game he flashed an effort wide at the Stacey West end, then in the second half he looked hungry for more, but it didn’t quite break for him. As the minute ticked away I might slightly criticise his insistence at holding on to the ball, one moment on our attacking left he seemed intent on doing it all himself but he lost the ball. Should we be critical of a striker wanting goals? I was f Ollie Palmer last season, but yesterday John didn’t pass up an opportunity to feed a team mate in who could score, but he did become more single-minded as the game wore on.
I don’t think there’s any question over whether he’s a physical striker or not, close up you see he’s built like a boxer and he’s strong in possession and off it. His languid approach might occasionally makes it look as though he’s not being physical, but I think he’s saving it for where it matters. Even as late as the 95th minute he was still making a nuisance of himself in the box.
I think anyone who truly believes Akinde isn’t good enough is on a wind up. He might not have been amongst the goals as much as we hoped, but when we’ve had thirteen different scorers in eleven league and cup games, we must be doing something right.
He is clearly settling in still, speaking to Tom Pett last week opened my eyes when he said he thought it took a couple of months to settle in at least. That means John Akinde is still grasping his surroundings and his team mates. I think many of us would like to see him paired with Matt Green, but it would be hard to relegate Shay to the bench when they seem to be putting a partnership together.
John Akinde will frustrate some fans because he isn’t Christian Doidge or Ricky Miller circa 2016, but to believe he is anything other than a huge asset is, in my opinion, incorrect. We’ve seen two different sides to his game, yesterday when he was the worker and provider, but we’ve also seen him tear Exeter City to shreds almost singlehanded. What does that tell you? That he’s got to adjust to playing in front of 9,000 rather than 1,500 at Barnet? Maybe. All I know is he’s a quality striker who will be an important part of whatever we achieve this season.