Elicha Ahui – The Imps Next Right Back?

Credit Graham Burrell

It was announced on Monday that Lincoln City has recalled Freddie Draper and Elicha Ahui from their loan spell with League of Ireland Premier Division side Drogheda United as the Imps prepare to fly out to Spain as part of their pre-season preparations, writes Tom Green.

The response to the pair leaving the Irish side has been one of disappointment, highlighting how the fans took to the young professionals and valued their contribution to the team. Freddie Draper returns to City having netted 8 times in the league this season, seeing him sit at the top of his team’s goalscoring charts and third in the division overall. Elicha Ahui may not have scored the goals or earned himself a Player of the Month award but his impact on the team has also been a positive one. It was indeed the full-back Ahui who I chose to focus my attention on when watching Drogheda United.

Elicha Ahui 

Ahui was born in Nottingham in 2003 and spent his formative years with Nottingham Forest before being released and eventually joining Lincoln City. He would go on to sign his professional deal with the Imps in March 2022, having completed the club’s Shadow Scholar Programme, an opportunity combining football and further education offered to those who have not achieved a full scholarship elsewhere.

During his time with City, he was promoted to the first team, tasted action against Newcastle’s Under 21s in the EFL Trophy and spent time on loan at Gainsborough Trinity before his stint on the Irish east coast.

Why does Lincoln City loan players to clubs in Ireland?

Recently, I spoke to Lincoln’s CEO Liam Scully about the club’s activity in the Irish market and why the club send players over the Irish Sea on loan. One of the interesting comments was that the league offers a real breadth of competition, with the levels of clubs across the ten-team competition ranging from Championship to National League North level. This variety in quality provides different tests for players and is one of many advantages the club see in sending players to Ireland to aid development.

The Imps’ CEO discussed the positive relationship that his club have with the people at Drogheda and the importance of the type of people they surround their young players with. For young men who may be away from home for the first time, the pastoral care on offer is vital. Professionally, having players surrounded by good role models who set excellent examples is key. It would seem that Drogheda is an ideal destination for Lincoln City’s young professionals.

Who is Drogheda United?

Drogheda is an industrial and port town that sits just over 30 miles north of Dublin on the east coast of Ireland. The football club was founded as a junior club in 1919 and entered the Dundalk and District League for 1919-20, becoming champions two years later.

A turning point for the club came in 1953 when Father Kevin Connolly made the town his home and he would have a key role in the setting up of Drogheda FC in 1962. In 1963, the club were elected into the League of Ireland but would finish bottom in each of their first three seasons. It was in 1975 that we saw the amalgamation of Drogheda United and Drogheda FC, creating Drogheda United FC.

The 1982-83 season would see the club achieve European Qualification for the first time in their history, before going down 14-0 on aggregate to Tottenham. The same season would bring the club their first piece of silverware, following a League Cup win.

Between 1989 and 2002, the club would become known as a ‘yo-yo club’ due to the frequency with which they were promoted and relegated from the top division. However, the appointment of Paul Doolin would lead to a period of great success for the club, with The Drogs winning the FAI Cup, two Setanta Cups and their first league championship in 2007. The club would venture into Europe, facing the likes of IK Start and almost knocking Dynamo Kyiv out of the Champions League.

The club then plunged into a dark period as the threat of extinction hung in the air, forcing the club to leave their full-time status and revert to being a part-time outfit and they would only survive relegation thanks to Sporting Fingal withdrawing from the league. Having gone through six managers in nine months, the club recovered to win their first trophy since the 2007 title as they beat Shamrock Rovers in the League Cup. The club were relegated from the Premier Division in 2015 and would only return in 2021.

Drogheda United are a small club that continues to battle above their means in the top division. Having experienced the highest of highs, tasted European football and teetered on the brink of extinction the club’s 104-year existence has been quite a ride.

Elicha Ahui versus Cork City

I first watched Ahui and his Drogheda teammates in their away match at Cork City, against the side who, at the time of writing, are second bottom of the league but only two points behind The Drogs. The game was a tight affair, with former Torquay United man Ruairi Keating breaking the deadlock for the hosts before the visitors grabbed an equaliser before halftime via an own goal.

Ahui played at right back in a back four and his direct opponent that evening was North Macedonian winger Daniel Krezic. The young Imp performed well and looked comfortable in his surroundings. Ahui was eager to get forward and used his pace to glide past players, showing that he is a direct runner. The confidence he displayed on the ball was excellent, showing sharp control in tight areas and always looking for a pass rather than just knocking the ball into space down the line. My initial thoughts were that he would be ideal for a wing-back/winger role due to his forward thinking and pace that would allow him to cover the ground needed in those roles.

Ahui versus Bohemians

After one win, one draw and one defeat in their next three games, it was for the visit of 11-time League of Ireland champions Bohemians that I next got to watch Ahui. The Dublin side had Imps loanee Jay Benn on the bench as they lined up in a 4-2-1-2-1 formation, meaning Ahui and his fellow defenders were up against a three-pronged attack with former Drog James Clarke in the attacking midfield role.

Against the better standard of opposition, Ahui wasn’t as effective getting forward and spent the majority of his 78 minutes on the pitch in his defensive third. He showed some impatience when in possession and attempted to force the play rather than play forward in the composed fashion he had demonstrated in the previous fixture.

Ahui versus UCD FC

Drogheda would win only one of their next five matches, a surprise victory away at league leaders Shamrock Rovers before University College Dublin FC came to town. UCD is the only top-flight student team in Europe but currently sits bottom of the Premier Division, 15 points adrift of second-bottom Cork City.

Drogheda would go behind in the 19th minute but would be ahead by halftime thanks to two Freddie Draper goals and Draper would lay on the third for Dylan Grimes as the home side would run out 3-1 winners.

Ahui had missed the previous match through injury and he looked a little laboured in the opening exchanges but he grew into the game and was placed under no real pressure by his opponents. He displayed calmness and decisiveness in possession and control, particularly when under pressure. Ahui challenged well aerially: winning his duels and delivering to his forward players when given the opportunity.

Technical and Tactical Strengths

The right-back consistently demonstrates close control, looks calm and composed in possession, can carry a ball beyond opponents and passes forward sharply into his forward players. He likes to overlap his winger and attempt to impact the game in forward areas and makes good decisions about when to pass and cross.

Physical and Mental Attributes

During the first game, he received a booking after a quarter of an hour and showed great maturity in how he navigated the rest of the match. He continued to play at his fast pace but was controlled in his approach to avoid a second yellow card.

Ahui was strong and quick and was able to recover his position due to these physical attributes. He looks to be a confident player who has integrated well with his teammates, encouraging them when dispossessed and continuing to show for the ball in difficult situations even after he had lost possession.

Defensively, Ahui was quick into the challenge, performed well in his aerial duels made well-timed sliding tackles when called upon. He is strong in the challenge and makes his decision early, remaining fully committed and looks to have developed a good understanding with the right-sided centre-back Emmanuel Adegboyega.

Technical and Tactical Areas to Improve

At such a young age, Ahui is just 19, there are bound to be things to improve in his game, and the time on the pitch for Drogheda is giving him that opportunity.

The booking that I have mentioned came from a slightly clumsy foul where he didn’t quite get his footing right and almost barged into the opponent. His closing down and positioning were areas in need of improvement. Ahui wasn’t always tight enough to his winger to block a cross or shot and it did cost his team a goal on one occasion. Positionally, and this was more evident against the weaker opponents, he could be caught ahead of the ball or his man and be taken out of the game by one pass and would rely on his speed to recover.

Writer’s View

From what I have watched, Elicha Ahui looks like a player with a future in the game. Physically, although still developing, he is strong, quick and a powerful runner. To go with his physical attributes, he is confident in his ability, being happy to take the ball in tight areas and look to pass rather than knock it long.

He is very attack-minded and will need to develop defensively should he wish to make the right-back area his own. However, from what I have seen, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him playing a more advanced role down the right to utilise his pace.

As the season draws ever closer and Ahui and Draper have arrived back in Lincolnshire, it will be interesting to see what the club have planned for the young defender. Jay Benn also recently returned to the club from his loan spell at Bohemians to add to the options on the right side of the defence. Initially, with Benn being recalled first, I began to wonder whether he was in Mark Kennedy’s plans and whether Ahui would be left in Ireland to gain further experience. However, now both players have returned it appears that the manager wants to take a closer look at the pair.

We knew during the season that Regan Poole was leaving the club at the end of his contract, and, a few months ago at least, that would have meant the need for a new right wing-back for Mark Kennedy’s system. That has perhaps changed with the emergence of Lasse Sorenson in that position, whose performances have perhaps eased the pressure to bring in a player to replace Poole directly. The recall of the defensive pair is intriguing. Could one of them be kept at the LNER to rival Sorenson? Could I right back be brought in to battle it out for a starting place with the Dane? Could Sorenson be used in midfield with the two youngsters left to fight it out for the full-back role?

I believe that the last option is highly unlikely and in fact, the more likely outcome is that at least one of them goes out on loan. Of course, they were already on loan so I can only assume that the club perhaps have something lined up in the domestic leagues that will help their development to continue.

The loan at Drogheda provided a fantastic learning experience for the young defender, one he grabbed with both hands. He will be desperate to get some action for the first team at Lincoln during pre-season and I am sure he will jump at another loan opportunity. As for Drogheda, I am sure this won’t be the last time promising young professionals will head to County Louth to learn their trade.