I watched a much-improved performance from Bolton Wanderers against Aston Villa and our best moments in the game primarily came through both Sammy Ameobi and Adam Armstrong, our wingers on the day. In the past we have rarely played with out and out wingers due to Parky’s love of a 3-back formation but given that has gone down like a lead balloon there is a chance that they can come to the fore.
The manager clearly believes it could be an option given the players he brought in over the summer, namely Craig Noone, Sammy Ameobi, Will Buckley and Adam Armstrong (who while he is more accustomed to playing up front has the pace and skill to play out wide. These players, along with Filipe Morais, offer us the opportunity to really hurt teams down the flanks and I think focus on this area could go a long way to improve our fortunes.
Against Villa, Bolton continued to use Gary Madine as their outlet by playing long balls to him but we got the better of their defence once or twice by playing some football on the floor and out wide too. Thus, it is clearly possible for us to play in a different way rather than to just hoof it to Madine in the hope he’ll do something and the opposition won’t double mark him and therefore neuter us going forward. Jem Karacan looked much happier playing in Josh Vela’s role behind the striker and was useful as a link between the ball winners behind him and the wingers.
Therefore, we were able to use their pace and play in behind their respective full-backs. They are clearly capable of playing the ball on the deck and getting the men out wide involved so why not make it our main tactic. It makes us so much more potent going forward and less one-dimensional.
If we assume that this is what Parky will want us to do going forward, two issues arise in terms of selection. The first of course is who are the best wingers to play but the second is who the best striker to play with them? If we play this way does it make Madine’s aerial prowess redundant and should, say, Adam Le Fondre come in to take his place?
I am a huge Madine fan and think he has been one of our only decent performers this season playing in a thankless role on his own up top. However, it is obvious to a blind man that teams find him relatively easy to deal with as he is on his own, thus once he is double marked we become neutralised immediately. Also, the link up between him and the wingers was almost non-existent. It was almost like Bolton were trying to play two different styles at once and it didn’t look like they mixed. Therefore it could be the answer to play Le Fondre instead.
He is a natural finisher, something we don’t have when he doesn’t play, and could definitely make the most of crosses and regular service from out wide. Of course it would mean a drastic shift in our style of play, almost making long balls pointless given his short stature.
I remember in his first spell at the club watching Alfie struggle when played up front on his own, preferring to have a partner like Craig Davies to do the dirty work. However I have seen a difference in him of late and that is his willingness to run around and be a nuisance rather than wait for the chances to come to him. This change attitude, for me, shows he could cope on his own if given the chance.
All in all, I believe it is pointless to have so many useful and experienced Championship wingers at our disposal if we don’t use them. Even if we aren’t good enough for this league we should at least try and give the opposition something to fear and that certainly won’t happen if we play one striker and hoof it to him all the time. I am not necessarily in favour of dropping Madine and in some games it will be necessary to have him they to perhaps add some extra stability to the side but in the games where we have nothing to lose we should play like that is the case and give our wide-players a forward who will look to benefit from their service.
Our wingers have the potential to be our best assets, lets give them the chance to fly.