With Jonathan Grounds now announced as Bolton’s new left-back, filling the position after a summer-long struggle to find a perfect suitor, his signing raised a question amongst the LOV writers about the seeming lack of balance to Wanderers’ defensive flanks. The options stand at Pawel Olkowski and Mark Little on the right with Grounds challenging Andrew Taylor on the left and whilst we believe all four are competent players, their respective styles have raised a concern.
Taking our right-sided defenders’ attributes into consideration it is clear that not only are they are both more mobile but also liable to push forward, as seen with Olkowski’s assist against Bristol City and Mark Little’s fantastic goal against Barnsley last season. The possibility of utilising Little’s pace and competency in attack should prove to be an asset this year, but one should also note that the capacity for Olkowski to help us more defensively is possibly an even greater positive. With these full-backs Wanderers have the option of adapting to suit different in-game situations. However, their counterparts on the left come with no such guarantees.
Grounds and Taylor both hail from Middlesbrough’s academy with Wanderers boasting David Wheater as another alumnus. This grounding (if you’ll pardon the pun) has allowed both players to forge good careers as solid full-backs who champion defensive strength over attacking prowess and this is nothing to be sniffed at. However, the fact that both players are the wrong side of 30 means they aren’t getting any quicker and whilst we are aware of this failing with Taylor, reports on Grounds’ time at Birmingham show that he also falls into that same category.
Last season we had the alternative of Antonee Robinson’s pace to Taylor’s defensive stability to allow Parky to adapt to the opposition. This year we have no such possibility and I worry that teams with the kind of wingers against whom Parky used Robbo will cause us problems given our carbon-copy left-backs. Little, the obviously quicker out of our two right-backs, can be drafted in for such an occasion thus on the right-hand side I have few concerns, but I fear our left flank could become targeted due to the aforementioned reasons.
During our last Premier League season another steady left-back, Paul Robinson, suffered that exact fate due to other managers deciding it would be more logical to focus attacks onto his flank due to the form of Gretar Steinsson and Sam Ricketts on the other. Ricketts was the sturdier right-back of the two whilst Steinsson often bombed forward i.e. we had two different options providing balance. I would hate for us to suffer due to this problem again unnecessarily.
Will Buckley’s inclusion in the starting 11 in the opening matches has seen him often helping Taylor out defensively and I have no doubt that he has been selected over Yanic Wildschut due to being more willing to take this role on. However, I strongly believe that utilising the Dutchman could be crucial to our survival prospects this season thus, in my opinion, we must take the risk of allowing either Grounds or Taylor to fend for themselves without a winger’s support. Personally, I think it is a risk that could make or break our season.
Do you agree with this or is Grounds a solid addition despite my concerns? Let us know in the comments box.