The one player vital to our current system is back on form

There’s been much debate about the current Imps’ system and whether the deep-lying forward Shay McCartan can get forward enough to support the lone striker.

Whilst I’m not going to open that particular can of worms entirely, we’ve recently looked to be playing something akin to a 4-5-1, or maybe a 4-4-1-1, but certainly not a 4-4-2. Yesterday we started 4-4-2 with Rhead and Green and had some joy, although it isn’t a tactic I expect to see going forward in the league.

What we did have yesterday was Captain Fantastic back, Lee Frecklington. The was a debate for a while as to whether he should be dropped for Tom Pett and Michael O’Connor earlier in the season, a debate in which I remained firmly on the side of Freck. He’s our captain, our leader and an inspiration to the younger players around him.

There are all manner of reasons why our captain is a guaranteed starter and many of them can be found in his personality, his influence and his experience. At the beginning of last season he was still Rotherham captain, he’s played regular Championship football and he is, or course, one of our own. (His name doesn’t quite fit in the song, but why let that stand in the way of singing it?).

Aside from all of those qualities, there’s another reason he should play every game, because his style of play compliments that of John Akinde and Shay McCartan. The common complaint is that McCartan doesn’t always get as close to Akinde as we might like. He’s a top player, he scores a goal or two and carries the ball with a real direct purpose, but he’s not a ‘bits and pieces’ striker that feeds off Akinde.

On the other hand, Matt Green is that striker, but he’s not the man to drop back into midfield when numbers dictate like McCartan does. He’s definitely part of a two-man attack which is why we see him with Rheady. He picks up the flick ons, works the channels and operates excellently off the big man, but that big man isn’t John Akinde. He wants to run the channels too, plus him and Green want the same balls in the same area. Remember when everyone said Lampard and Gerrard couldn’t play together for England? Think Green and Akinde at City.

That leaves us at a bit of an impasse. One of the options is to drop Akinde and McCartan and go for a flat 4-4-2. That means a more direct approach into the big man and hoping to get the wingers tucked in to do a lot of his running. This can be effective, we saw that for a good 25 minutes at the start of the game yesterday and it is why when we replaced Akinde we usually do the same with McCartan.

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

The other option hasn’t been available to us, but it involves Lee Frecklington. If we play with Akinde and McCartan, Lee Frecklington is an important player because he too carries the ball forward and probes, as well as doing the midfield duties. For a man into his thirties his engine is superb and if you look closely, John Akinde plays better when Lee Frecklington is in the side.

There’s no obvious reason for this, but Freck started the Forest Green game and linked up well with John once or twice. I noted it in my write up that day and although they didn’t specifically link up yesterday, I feel there’s more freedom for John to roam when Freck and McCartan are carrying the ball forward. 

Aside from the benefits elsewhere, Freck is such a top player. As he steamed onto the volley in the second half you saw an element to his game that few of our other players have, an instinct to make that late run into the box, to pick up on the loose ball and seize the moment. One or two of our lads are looking to dribble to the bye-line and cross or shoot, but Freck has a natural reaction to arrive later and strike shots. He pulled us out of the pooh against Bury and he struck a vital goal against Notts County.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

That is something the other midfielders do not have. Michael O’Connor is a box hanger, he likes to be deeper, waiting to pick stuff up outside the 18-yard area. Tom Pett shows more of a wingers instinct, making the channel runs and looking for neat passes and interplay. He’ll also be one driving low and hard from the edge of the area, I’m taking nothing away from Pett at all. Freck is similar in many respects to McCartan in terms of his drive forward, but with a midfielders guile not a forwards penetration.

There’s so many reasons to be positive at seeing Freck back in the side, but when you think of Bury, when you think of the one on one at Port Vale and the early link up play against Forest Green, you see his value not only to the team as a whole, but also to two very important players in our attack, Akinde and McCartan.

It’s a delight to see him back on the pitch doing his stuff because mark my words, if we’re going up this season we need the likes of Lee Frecklington on form and playing 75% of our matches.