There is a growing belief that one of our new signings is former Southend defender Ben Coker.
Coker has been linked with us by press in the south east and he appeared to confirm the move on his own social media a few weeks later. He’s had a busy summer, getting married a couple of weeks back, but he’s widely expected to become a Lincoln City player in the coming weeks, although there isn’t anything solid coming out of the club. It’s his birthday today though, so who knows if there is a birthday treat heading his, or our, way?
We thought we’d take a look at Coker’s past record, his stats and delve a little further into the injuries that have plagued him in the last couple of years, to see where we see him fitting into the Imps’ current set up.
Firstly, if we were signing the Ben Coker of a couple of years ago it would be a superb capture. He’s been a stalwart of Southend’s defence for a few seasons now and impressed enough in 2014/15 to be named in the Team of the Season for League Two. The Shrimpers were promoted via the play-offs and the left-sided defender was a key performer.
His last full season was 2016/17, our record-breaking National League campaign. He played plenty of matches for Phil Brown’s side and was all ready for the coming season when, in the summer of 2017, disaster struck. He broke his leg in a pre-season friendly with Colchester and was ruled out until Christmas.
When it comes to battling back from adversity, Coker is already well-proven. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 15 and injects with insulin before every game. He’s a fighter, the sort of character Danny loves to have around the place. He battled back from that broken leg and was in action as early as December, starting in a 2-1 defeat against Bradford.
He was of such importance to Southend there was no period of coming off the bench and gently being eased in. He was in from the off.
He made 22 appearances and began last season in his rightful spot, on the left hand side of then-manager Chris Powell’s defence. He played 17 matches before facing Sunderland at Roots Hall – just 21 minutes into the game he was stretchered off with a ruptured ACL. That was the last time he was seen on a football pitch.
Twenty years ago his career might have ended with the leg break and would almost certainly have finished with the ACL injury, but with advances in sports science, he’s likely to play again. His recent experiences were documented in a BBC programme you can find here.
He fits the bill perfectly for Danny. He’s versatile, as we can explore in a minute, he’s also a player with League One experience but with a low value at the moment. He’s had injury problems, just as Neal Eardley and Michael O’Connor have had, but he’s still of an age where he can recover. If he isn’t on our radar I’ll not just be surprised, I’ll be utterly shocked.
Going back to that last season he played significant football, we’ve plucked some of his stats out to paint a better picture of his ability.
Coker featured 34 times during that season as Southend finished 15th in League One. He was primarily a left back, but his heat map shows him advancing into the opponents half plenty. He’s as much a wing back as he is a left back, giving us options.
He likes carrying the ball forward and does so with good retention numbers. His dribble success rate for 2016/17 was 86.4%, showing him not just as a defender but as an attacking option. The issue in terms of our squad is we have Harry Toffolo in this role already, but Toff has the attributes to play further forward as well.
Coker likes a cross, averaging 3.74 per game which again is a good number, certainly for a full back. Compared that with Harry Anderson last season, one of our key players, who managed 2.61 crosses per game.
Defensively he’s no slouch and this is what I find really interesting. It’s two years ago, granted, and he’s been injured badly twice, but he’s got some good numbers in is own half. He averaged 4.42 interceptions per game, winning 52.8% of his aerial duels. In terms of tackling, he only committed 0.65 fouls per game on average.
These numbers paint a picture of a talented full back, excellent driving forward but equally as adept as part of a settled back four.
The big question is over that fitness record. Those injuries are certainly ones that a player can come back from and if Ben Coker is on our radar, then there is massive potential for him to be a big part of our League One campaign next season