In November 2020, Max Melbourne started for the Imps away at Accrington.
We drew 0-0 and he was replaced before the end of the game by Tayo Edun. It would be his last start of the season for City in the league; one followed in the EFL Trophy, again against Accrington, before he left for Walsall. As he did, few expected to see him in a City shirt again, not through a lack of quality, but just plain old bad luck.
Max wasn’t a Michael signing; he arrived on loan under Danny Cowley, playing once as we went down 3-1 to Doncaster in the EFL Trophy. Michael gave him a full-time contract and regular football, with an impressive outing against Blackpool one of the highlights. His last four starts in 2019/20 came as we lost to Portsmouth, Rotherham and Southend, and then as we beat Burton 3-2 in front of a packed stadium.
Falling Out of Favour
We’ve not been back since, but Max seemed to slip out of contention. He was injured as we started last season, and that start against Accrington was his only one in the league. He seemed to be a forgotten man and with just one year left on his contract, few saw a way back for him this summer. He was even told he could find another club, and we waited for the inevitable press release.
It never came. Instead, numbers dictated Max got game time over the summer, and when he did, he looked impressive. “Max always seemed to be the first to make himself available to Sam Long for playing the ball out from the back,” said Imps fan Shaun Dixon after the Boston friendly. “It is something which he seemed quite comfortable doing. He’s got pace and strength, and as we all know, good naturally left-footed centre backs are hard to find.” Michael Appleton was equally as impressed over the summer, adding, “Max has recognised there’s half a chance here, with injuries and not quite having enough in the building, and he knows he’s got an opportunity. So far, he’s applied himself well, his attitude has been good and it’s up to him now. As it stands at this moment in time, I can’t ask any more of him.”
Few were surprised to see him start for City this weekend. We drew 1-1 with Gillingham in a heated game, but when you cut through the controversy, how did Max do? He looked to deal with the Vadaine Oliver threat relatively well, but do the numbers stack up too?
Max Duels v Gillingham
I’ve dipped into Wyscount to see how Max’s numbers stack up when compared to Adam Jackson, his defensive partner, and the players around him in key positions. Let’s start with the fact he completed 90 minutes in the league for the Imps (99 including injury time) for the first time in 17 months. That in itself is a good sign for Max, especially as he played on the left side of a defensive two, whilst he was primarily a left-back during his loan spell with Walsall. I seem to recall a conversation with Michael where he said there was some debate as to whether Max was better at left-back or left centre back, so to play one for half a season, then step up a level and swap to another position shows a good attitude and application.
He was involved in nine defensive duels throughout the game, the first of which saw him get a kick from Watford loanee Dan Phillips. Phillips had a few nibbles at players, but Melbourne didn’t shy away and the second duel saw the two come together again, with Melbourne again on top. In all, he made nine defensive duels through the game, level with Tayo Edun and Lasse Sorensen. That was the joint highest for the Imps, ahead of Adam Jackson on six and Regan Poole on five. In terms of success, Max had a 50% success rate, the same as Jackson and Liam Bridcutt.
City came under some pressure from high balls – Adam Jackson contested 15 aerial duels, Regan Poole contested 13 and Max contested nine, the third-highest of the defence. Max’s success rate wasn’t quite up there; he won 33.3%, whilst Regan won 50% and Adam Jackson an impressive 68.75%. Still, Max didn’t shy away from the tougher stuff, and when you remember he’s a full-back playing centre half, it is more impressive.
What else do you want from a full back? Interceptions perhaps? An interception on Wyscout is meeting a cross before anyone gets there or cutting out a pass, and Max’s stats better anyone on the field in red and white. He made nine interceptions, two more than Liam Bridcutt, three more than Adam Jackson and four more than Tayo Edun. He was especially busy in the second half, with seven of those interceptions coming after the break.
Max Passing v Gillingham
Finally, we look at his passing compared to the other defenders only – it would be unfair to measure him against players more likely to be exchanging passes in different areas of the field. For instance, the player with the best pass accuracy for the Imps was Josh Griffiths (85.7%), but he only made 13 passes. Anthony Scully made 30 with an accuracy of 84.3%, whilst Max made 35, accurate to 78.9%. That’s a good figure, Adam Jackson made 31 passes with a 72.2% accuracy, whilst just in front of them, Liam Bridcutt played 43 passes at 78.% accuracy.
The usual argument here is that defenders play many sideways passes, which bumps up the value, and to a degree, that is true. Not for Max though – he made 11 ‘lateral passes’ through the course of the game. A lateral pass is a sideways ball, and his count of 11 is fewer than Regan Poole (12), Adam Jackson (15), Liam Bridcutt (17) and Tayo Edun (21). He played the second-highest number of forward passes in the game (21, compared to 24 by Regan Poole) and bettered Poole in terms of forward pass accuracy (77.2% to 46.1%). For those who do not know, a lateral pass goes sideways, or at 45-degree angles from sideways, and is under 12m as per the graphic below.
To recap, Max was competent in terms of the defensive numbers but impressed in terms of passing. When you factor in his situation six months ago, out on loan in League Two, and him being told he could leave this summer, I think he deserves recognition for getting himself back into contention. I think he might find it challenging when Joe Walsh is fit, but given how the former MK Dons man suffered last season, I also think there is game time to be had throughout the campaign for Max. He started the season well, against a side you need to be incredibly robust against, and I would now be very surprised if he moved on before the end of the transfer deadline.
It just goes to show, whoever you are, if you get a little bit of luck and show the right attitude and application, then you can find a road to redemption.