On deadline day, we missed out on a wide man, a player with skill and style that could unlock defences like a can opener taking the top off a tin of beans.
We ached for such a player, and at times on Tuesday night, certainly in the latter stages, you could see the need for a winger who could drop a shoulder and use pace to get past his player. Maybe, we do have one in our squad, albeit not available to us for the duration of the season.
Over the summer, some players left the Imps who will be sorely missed. Brennan Johnson and Jorge Grant are the main two, and whilst others look to settle into their roles, they did leave big shoes to fill. We wish well for some who left, such as Max Melbourne and Zack Elbouzedi, but their departure wasn’t felt all that much.
It’s fair to say Theo Archibald falls into the latter category. The former Celtic man made a handful of appearances for the Imps, with just four starts and a single goal. He did impress in patches, but his season never got going. He started behind everyone in terms of fitness, and by the time he was up to speed, we had settled players in the wide areas. He then struggled with illness and was only seen once after Christmas.
It was little surprise he left on loan, and you know what that usually means. At the beginning of the season, Michael Appleton told me that players go out on loan to come back and fight for a first-team place, even referencing Theo: “It’s no different to Theo (Archibald) going out on loan,” he said of Max heading to Walsall last season. “The emphasis is for them to come back stronger. If it wasn’t, you’d make it clear it was a loan to go permanently; I’ve always been upfront with players in that respect. I want players to go away from here and prove they can be part of the group. If they do that, you can argue we’ve done our job because we’ve got that reaction from them.
Often, that’s not the case in practice. Look at the senior players we’ve loaned out since arriving; Ben Coker (Cambridge and Stevenage), Alex Bradley (Harrogate and Yeovil), Grant Smith (Boreham Wood), Aaron Lewis (Newport), Zack Elbouzedi (Bolton), Ethan Ross (Weymouth) and Max Melbourne (Walsall and Stevenage). Note a pattern? None came back and played more than five or six games if any.
Does that mean the end of the road for Archibald? I would certainly hope not; he’s a player I’ve championed since he arrived. I thought he showed enough in his brief cameos to be considered a decent option from the bench – he has pace, trickery and an eye for goal. He surely needs a good loan spell under his belt, raising his stock to a point where he forces Michael to make a choice. As it turns out, he’s currently playing a starring role for Leyton Orient.
In his eight matches for Kenny Jackett’s side, he’s scored twice and assisted twice. His last two games have seen three goal involvements, an assist for Harry Smith’s opener in the 2-2 draw with Newport, before a goal and assist as they rolled Oldham over 4-0 at Brisbane Road. His assists for Smith’s goal came from a corner, delivered with accuracy to the front stick. He laid on their opener against Oldham, picking up the ball from a cleared Oldham corner, riding a tackle with ease and sprinting away down the left, eventually centring for Aaron Drinan to slot home. He covered a good 70-yards to make the goal, and did incredibly well to ride the rather crude tackle.
His goal on 75 minutes in the same game was incredibly good. A flick on saw him move into the left channel with two defenders for company, looking to shield the ball out of play. He wriggled free of both using strength and cunning but still had work to do. He took a couple of touches, moved into a tight shooting position, and rifled home. If I say it had an air of the Brennan Johnson about it, you would surely laugh at me, but you can find it below and judge for yourself.
Kenny Jackett is impressed with the Scot, telling local media they are pleased with our winger. “He (Theo Archibald) has and a nice left-foot as well,” Jackett told the Ilford Recorder. “He does combine well with Harry Smith and Aaron Drinan. It’s a good front three. “He’s on a season-long loan, that’s the situation, but we’ll see what the future brings. He’ll be with us this year, and that’s what we’re concentrating on at the moment. We have been pleased with him, and if you’ve got a song that does help you in terms of being a footballer and a forward.”
How do his numbers stack up? He’s already played more minutes for Orient than he did for us, 709 in total. In that time, he’s managed 16 shots with a 43.8% accuracy, which is very impressive. That’s 2.03 per game, and whilst it might be a different level, Brennan was at 2.2 per game, 39.8% accuracy. I’m using Brennan not because I think Theo is as good as he is, but as a comparison for a player in a similar position, one we arguably needed to strengthen. With that in mind, Theo’s crossing stats for Orient are 3.81 per game, 30% accuracy, and he chips in with 1.14 shot assists per game. He’s also good on the ball, attempting 5.84 dribbles per game, with a 41.3% success rate and making 2.79 progressive runs per 90 (that’s a run that advances play by 30m or more). Brennan’s crossing stats were 1.88 per game with 20.5% accuracy, and he assisted 0.72 shots per ninety. The on-loan Forest man also attempted 6.27 dribbles per game with a 54.1% accuracy and made 2.77 progressive runs per game. There’s not a lot in those numbers, although Theo will have to maintain the form over another 3500 or so minutes to be truly comparable with Brennan.
My point is this; Orient love Archibald, he’s clearly loving his football (his reaction to scoring against Exeter was pure delight, after a frustrating season with us), and he’s a decent player. The sad thing is he’ll be 24 by the time the season ends, so if he does leave on a free, he will do so with no financial benefit to us. If he maintains this form, you do have to wonder if we are going to try and keep him on board? In terms of injury and illness, if last year was a bad year, could a season in League Two be the tonic he needs to come back and be a big influence for us?
Our track record with senior players heading out on loan suggests not, but if Theo Archibald keeps impressing in East London, then plenty of Imps fans are going to be keen to see him given a rare second chance in our squad.
All stats credit Wyscout