Before we get into it, let’s just have a look at the performances from the Wanderers starting eleven positionally, in particular some of those who were in the conversation for MOTM.
A clear leader and an experienced goalkeeper is something we have lacked this season. A few weeks back, I was listening to Scott Minto and Danny Mills covering Chelsea’s Champions League tie versus Rennes. They were discussing the importance of a strong goalkeeper and the effect this has on the defence as whole. We have seen a huge improvement in our defence recently, but I put forward that argument that they would be even better with a reliable goalkeeper between the sticks. Knowing you have a commanding goalkeeper behind you almost alleviates the pressure you have as a defender, it allows you to concentrate more on your game. Enter Matt Gilks and a welcomed break for Billy Crellin. You could hear his voice from the pitch side microphones and it was often referred to by Lee Hendrie on Sky Sports commentary. He organised the defence and made a handful of excellent saves. A clean sheet against one of the highest scoring teams in the division speaks volumes of our defensive performance. One huge difference to his game from Crellin’s was his passing tendencies. Gilks often opted to go long, almost suggesting we should look to bring in a target man for the second half of the campaign. Of his 25 passes, 21 of these were long balls with a 32% success rate. Overall, a fantastic debut and I can understand why he received Sky’s MOTM award.
A surprise inclusion into the starting eleven for Gethin Jones who was absent since he was stretched off against Harrogate at the start of October. His defensive work rate and positional awareness is possibly his biggest asset. He offered us a lot more cover defensively over offensively. In recent weeks, we have seen Peter Kioso a lot more offensive minded and at times this has been his downfall. Alex Baptiste has suffered because of this. He’s had a tough ride during his second spell at Wanderers, some fair criticism due to some individual errors, but at times he has been left isolated by his wing-back. This wasn’t the case against Salford. Both wingbacks defended well and protected their centre halves. Kioso with a particularly excellent block in the second half. As a whole, our defence was solid, this was just the second league game that Salford had failed to score in this season. Salford dominated possession of the ball in the second half, where they had almost double the touches of the ball, but we were resilient in defence and switched on to limit Salford’s attack to very little.
Our strongest threesome by a country mile. Sarcevic, Tutte and Crawford would probably get into any side in the division. Perhaps the most surprising of the three above would be Andrew Tutte. His positional awareness and ability to pre-empt where the ball is going to be is exceptional. What Tutte allows is the more attacking midfielders of Sarcevic and Crawford to get further up the pitch.
Check out BWFC Analysis’ thread on Twitter, to see just how good Tutte was.
Sarcevic was given a place in the EFL’s TOTW for a great assist and a few decent attempts on goal, which he probably should have done better with. I think Tuttes involvement gets the best out of his attacking ability and is something we should look to make the most of each week. Perhaps surprisingly, Ali Crawford was included in the InStat Football’s TOTW, although I thought he was better than in recent weeks, I’m not sure he deserved the place over his midfield companions of Sarce & Tutte.
Welcome back Eoin Doyle, oh how we have missed you. We’ve said all season, give him chances and he’ll put them away. His only shot of the game was taken excellently after a great run on the shoulder of Jordan Turnbull, a pinpoint pass from Sarce and powered home for his third goal of the season. Nathan Delfouneso perhaps didn’t look his best, but I fully expect him to get back up to speed now that he has competition for that starting place and he has his partner back. I thought the pair of them, especially with Ali Crawford’s assistance, pressed Salford’s back line really well.
The only starter that I haven’t name-checked, step forward Ricardo Santos. Many laughed when Evatt described him as “the best central defender outside of the Premier League and the Championship.” He was outstanding against Salford and has been arguably our best player after his shaky start to his Wanderers career. He finished the game exactly how he started it, with a desire to win every single loose ball that he set his eyes on. He has turned into a superb signing and if he keeps up his current form, he’ll be in the Championship sooner rather than later. His four aerial duels won was the most in a Wanderers shirt and provided 6 clearances, more than any other player on the pitch. Fans’ perception of Santos has been one of the biggest u-turns I’ve ever seen. If he carries on the way he is, I’d be surprised if there is anyone that even remembers his blip at the start of the season.