There are hundreds of thousands of football players that will all be able to tell you the same thing: Being out injured when your team is doing well is horrible. It’s a pretty daunting prospect, especially when you're a club captain like Darren Pratley.
Picture the scene: It’s the first game of the season against your possible promotion rivals come May, whose manager just happens to be the bloke that was tipped to take the reigns at your club just eight weeks prior to the season starting. You've now got a new gaffer yourself and are just starting to shake off the disappointment of last season, as well as looking forward to leading the charge up the league and getting your team, and the town, back to where it belongs as soon as possible. But then, out of the blue, disaster strikes. You're stretchered off in the first half and are ruled out for at least 14 weeks, meaning you’re unlikely to see first team action until at least early 2017. On top of that, you also require surgery to stabilise your ankle ligament injury after it was first diagnosed as a fractured bone in your leg.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? Well that's exactly what happened to our club captain on Saturday 6th August, and he hasn't played a minute of first team football since. Now, I can confirm that I've slept since then but my vague recollection of our opening game of the season is that Pratley looked more than up for it - he was ready to fight tooth and nail to get us out of League One as quickly as possible. Remember his interview at the end of last season? He looked genuinely heartbroken that we’d been relegated and three months later he looked out to right previous wrongs.
The last three paragraphs are all well and good, but back on the pitch, Wanderers are well and truly firing on all cylinders without Pratley. We've won 14 out of our 23 games, drawn four, lost just five and are sitting a single, measly point behind the biggest club in the world, Sheffield United, who occupy the second automatic promotion place. So, I ask you, dear reader, do we need Darren Pratley in our team?
By trade, Pratley is a box-to-box midfielder. He's been played out of position by a couple of Parky’s predecessors, but when played in the right place he's very effective and can score goals. You might say he's our only real central midfielder of that ilk, as Spearing, Thorpe and Derik are all defensive minded and Vela’s found his true calling in that No.10 role, replacing Mark Davies.
Despite all this, I still can't see where he’s going to play once he's fit. I doubt Spearing will be dropped because he's been rock solid all season, and he's also been interim captain in DP’s absence. Parky seems to like Thorpe, even though I prefer Derik, but the two of them are pretty interchangeable. Vela is much younger and has bags more energy than Pratley, so where does the latter fit in?
I’m not saying we should sell Pratley or loan him out - he's an experienced head in the dressing room - but I really don't think we should drop one of the players that's been working so hard, and performing so well, just to accommodate him.
You know what they say; if it ain’t broke, don't fix it.
Let me know your thoughts on the Darren Pratley dilemma in the comments below.