Another midfielder, right? Go on, that’s what you first thought when you saw we’d signed Jake Hesketh, didn’t you? The Imps have decided to play 2-7-1 this season and we’ve finally take the plunge and added another top-flight loanee.
As we know, football isn’t as straightforward as that. Players who play ‘midfield’ now cover a multitude of areas. Look at Callum Connolly, playing in front of the back four, but able to sit in the defence if need be. He offers versatility and flexibility, which is what Jake Hesketh will also bring.
I can’t see the Southampton man dropping into the role occupied by Joe Morrell or Callum Connolly upon signing. He’s a different type of midfield, a player who plays far more advanced. For those who like a bit of Football Manager every now and again, he’s very much an ‘AM (RC)’.
In fact, in two spells out on loan last season with MK Dons and Burton, he tended to end up on the right as well, even playing as a centre forward at times. His heat map for the season on Wyscout shows that he’s very much cover for Jack Payne, offering options across the bank of three behind Tyler Walker.
I did express concern about what would happen if we lost Jack Payne for any reason, who might prowl that central area looking for openings. It seems the answer is Jake Hesketh, but it’s going to be interesting to see if we can give him the games he needs to progress as a player. After all, he was once seen as a possible first-team player for Southampton, yet he’s now on his third loan spell away from St Mary’s.
Read Southampton were certainly keen on talking up the midfielder in an article five months ago, saying; “Diminutive, tricky and exceptional in tight spaces, the young playmaker promised so much. His displays at youth level for the club scarcely flattered to deceive, and his creativity and intelligence so often prevailed.”
Nigel Clough wasn’t happy to lose the 23-year-old in January either. He had a good spell with the Brewers, but when it came to refreshing their six-month deal, the Premier League side allegedly changed their terms.
“Southampton wanted something different and wanted a bit of money for him, and unfortunately for Jake, he has ended up stepping down to League Two,” Clough told the Derbyshire Telegraph. “I’d have thought that, having had such a good first half of the season in League One, Southampton would’ve wanted him to at least stay at this level. We just thought the benefit that Southampton and Jake were getting from him being with us wasn’t worth a little bit of finances that Southampton were asking for.”
How well did he do last season? Not just during his League One tenure, but also in his short stay at Stadium MK? We look at the numbers below.
Across both spells he played a total of 38 matches; 14 of those were League One starts, 13 starts in League Two. He was mostly deployed as a central attacking midfielder, but also played on the right-hand side of attack and occasionally as a centre forward.
As we’ve read above, he’s a tricky, diminutive player, much like Jack Payne. He chipped in with both goals and assists for both sides. He bagged away at Portsmouth to earn Burton a draw, before grabbing what proved to be the winner in a thrilling 3-2 victory against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup. He scored again in that cup run, bagging the only goal of the game away at Middlesbrough.
He had established himself as a key part of the Burton side when the two clubs failed to agree a new deal in January, meaning he wound up at MK Dons as they tried to hunt us down in the title race. they failed, but Hesketh wasn’t to blame; he scored twice for them, in a 3-2 defeat against Swindon and a 3-2 win against Carlisle.
He’s a willing provider and scorer of goals; he took 2.63 shots per game last season, teeing up 1.21 shots for teammates as well. He’s full of industry behind the striker and will almost certainly be rotated with Jack Payne first and foremost.
Like Payne, he loves to get on the ball and dribble. The similarities are startling between the two, Hesketh made 6.72 dribbles per game and may offer respite for Harry Anderson in the latter stages of games too. He’s going to add depth to our attack, that’s for sure. He’s a keen passer of the ball too and has good accuracy when passing into the final third of the field, 75.9% of the time finding a teammate.
He’s certainly not the sort of player you expect to sign when you hear Danny say words like ‘free loans’. I’m sure Burton would have happily had him back and if he’s as effective for us as he was for them, we’ve strengthened our options this afternoon.