Harry Toffolo has arguably been the most consistent performer for the Imps this season, adding pace to the wide areas and forming relationships with both Jorge Grant and Bruno going forward.
The summer 2018 signing settled quickly for the Imps and was a key part of last year’s success and he’s stepped up to League One football with ease; it’s not surprising, he comes from a higher level and has never looked lost against some of the wingers he’s come up against.
I spoke to him recently for the club programme and, after mentioning his form, the humble left back claimed he just wanted to get better.
“I can always get better, even on Saturday. I look at my game and my performance a bit more in-depth more than I should perhaps. I tend to critique every little thing I do; I want to put in the perfect performance every week. You just have to keep working and striving towards that; if you keep working and trying to improve, you’ll put yourself in a good place.”
Toff has played 71 times for the Imps, all of them starts bar two appearances from the bench in the EFL Trophy. He’s bagged four goals, one of which came earlier this season as we routed Southend 4-0. He’s also adapted quickly to Michael Appleton’s style and is one of the players seemingly unaffected by the recent upheaval in terms of performance.
“I’ve known about the way the manager plays for a while,” he continued in the programme piece.
“I’ve played against his sides before and you know you’re facing a technical, ball-playing team, which is what he wants from us. He’s always kept position and dictated play, letting full backs attack and wingers roll inside.
“I think that suits me and Jorge (Grant) as it gives us some freedom and suits our style. We’ve really enjoyed playing for the gaffer and we enjoy playing with each other. If we keep doing that, he can improve our game and we can kick on to create goalscoring opportunities.”
Creating opportunities is exactly what Toff does and it’s something I wanted to look at a little closer. I’ve been perusing Wyscout, looking at his attacking qualities. As well as being a left back I’ve always felt he could operate on the left wing, something that might be a serious option now Ben Coker is back on the grass.
I’ve looked at Toff’s outings this season from an attacking perspective, trying to find a pattern that supports my theory that he’s versatile. There’s no doubt he’s fit; he rarely misses a game and isn’t prepared to start when Ben Coker is fit. Whilst Coker will have a lot to prove, Toff has already earned the right to be a constant starter but perhaps his skills could be used elsewhere.
He’s a real danger going forward and one aspect of his play I like is his progressive runs. I watched a few examples on the stats program so i could satisfy myself with exactly what a ‘progressive run’ was. It seems to be where he carries the ball forward, ten yards or more, then delivers it and keeps his run going. Against Shrewsbury, he made five progressive runs and on average he makes 2.25 per game.
That willingness to carry the ball is vital for a modern-day full back, but you have to do it well. 55.8% of his dribbles are successful, in that they result in a pass, cross or shot. The rest he’s either tackled or gives the ball away, but it’s a decent number all the same.
He’s also a keen crosser of the ball, whipping in 3.69 deliveries per match with a success rate of 33.8%. We usually see a success rate of around 30% from wingers; a cross is only as accurate as a striker makes it of course. Toff’s delivery isn’t quite Neal Eardley standard (3.11 pg and 41.5% accuracy this season) but it’s not far off.
Toff is always looking to get the ball into the final third too, making 6.74 passes into the key areas per game, assisting 0.75 shots per game. Considering he’s also making sure there isn’t space in behind him, I like those numbers a lot. I’ve seen a lot of full backs at Lincoln and rarely have we had two as talented as Neal and Harry. I appreciate some think Aaron Lewis is putting pressure on Neal this season, but if Lewis was a left back would we think the same about Toff? I’m not so sure we would.
Our left hand side always looks dangerous and I feel any joy we might get tomorrow will be down that flank; Scott Wagstaff is the full back tasked with closing the gaps, along with left-sided centre back Paul Kalambayi. They’re going to make space hard to come by, but if we can overload those areas and Toff is on his game getting up and down the line, I fancy him to be our key man.
Whatever happens tomorrow, Harry Toffolo is in a rare position in our squad; he’s a veteran of the League Two winning side who isn’t thirty or beyond, which also makes him the sort of player we must tie down to a new deal for next season.