Southampton Recall Dan N’Lundulu: Analysis and Reaction

Credit Graham Burrell

Many said the capture of Morgan Whittaker was the least surprising news of the week. For me, it’s today’s announcement that Dan N’Lundulu won’t appear for the Imps again.

The powerful forward has been recalled early by Southampton, and few tears will be shed. His Imps tally totalled one, a sublime finish against Wigan, but his decent performances probably amounted to just two. In total, the 22-year-old appeared 21 times for the Imps, scoring once but missing plenty of good chances; his xG rating suggests he should have scored four goals at least.

The feedback on social media has been cutting and almost unanimous in welcoming his return to Southampton, but I think a lot of his issues here have been down to circumstance. For instance, he got injured in pre-season and was therefore a way behind everyone in terms of fitness. He was rushed back to play against Man Utd U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy, only to get injured again and miss more football. That was harsh; he missed a sitter against United which could have got him off to a flyer. Instead, the miss stuck in people’s minds.

Credit Graham Burrell

When he did start getting a run of games, it wasn’t him gently being eased in, but thrown in at the deep end as the only number nine we had. That was a lot to put on his shoulders; yes he’s 22, but he’s got little senior experience. Fans expected an Ellis Simms style player who was going to boss defenders, but instead, he got knocked around like a rag doll at first. He looked like a youngster out of 23s football who didn’t know what to expect from senior appearances, and in reality, that is what he was.

Those performances against Burton and Wigan made me think we’d finally got him on the right track; he bullied the Burton defence and got a great goal against Wigan. Then, in a flash of an eye, it was gone again. It quickly became apparent, as we tumbled down the table, that he was below our own homegrown striker, Freddie Draper, in the pecking order, and the writing was almost always on the wall after that.

Dan N’Lundulu isn’t a bad footballer, but in my mind, he is the product of a broken football system. He’s 22 and aside from 12 appearances in the Premier League, all relatively short outings as a sub, he has no senor experience. The one game he did excel in, against Shrewsbury for Southampton in the FA Cup, saw him in a Premier League team expected to win their game with ease. When he had good players around him, he looked good. When it was up to him to produce the quality and magic, he was left wanting.

Credit Graham Burrell

Think about our best loan players in recent years; Brennan Johnson, Davide Somma, Tyler Walker Ashley Grimes etc; where did they come from? Premier League academies with little senior football? No. They came from the division or two above us and had all got a bit of football under their belts. Even Johnson, without much senior experience, was better prepared for life in League One than some of the PL loans we’ve had. Lewis Fiorini hasn’t been bad this season, and probably TJ was the big exception to the rule last year as he looked ready as soon as he’d arrived. Sadly, Dan N’Lundulu just didn’t, not from the first minute he stepped on the pitch.

I don’t think he’s as bad as many make out. He hit a run of bad luck and the expectation he carried simply wasn’t something he could live up to. I feel there’s a bit of the Tyreece John-Jules in him; this big hope from a PL academy that in reality is far less effective than his coaches think. It won’t happen, but Dan really needs to be loaned to League Two, maybe somewhere like Crawley, where the standard of defending is a little lower and he’s perhaps not got such expectation placed upon him.

After the injury to Tom Hopper and the disappointment of deadline day, we needed a player willing to seize the moment and take the next step, but we didn’t get it. I wish Dan the best of luck in the future.

In other news, Archie Mair has left the club. You might remember Archie signed from Norwich on loan, immediately got injured delaying the announcement and then wasn’t handed a game even in the Papa John’s Trophy away at Carlisle. Like N’Lundulu, he saw his route to the first team blocked by our own academy graduate, Sam Long. A to think, many criticise the club for loaning other young players over our own!