Well this is becoming quite the occurrence isn’t it...
Another late, late show, this time at the UniBol and it was Miller time again for the Whites, as their territorial dominance over Barrow eventually paid dividends to send us into 7th heaven and into the play-off places, for now.
Not an easy MOTM decision this one.
A number of players delivered solid, if unspectacular performances that suggested a team playing well but without that je ne sais quoi to put teams like Barrow, content to deploy a low block and sit in for a point, to the sword.
As is almost stating the obvious now, Ricardo Santos, who put pen to paper on a one-year extension today that ties him to the club until the summer of 2023 (or more likely until a club higher up the pyramid pays what we want for him), was untroubled and coasted through the game in the main. It was his partner-in-crime Alex Baptiste who tended to deal, and deal capably enough, with the threat Scott Quigley’s strong running and upper-body strength provided in sporadic bursts.
The rest of the side played what I would call their ‘average’ game, in that they did the things I expected them to do, given their level of talent and in their current form. Perhaps with the exception of lone front man Eoin Doyle, who seemed a little off-the-pace and fatigued perhaps. One dopey touch when a first-time shot would’ve been the better option in the first-half, being a particularly pertinent example of him lacking the speed and perhaps clarity of thought that we’ve come to expect from the normally reliably sharp Irishman.
The one player who stood out to me as playing above the level I’ve come to know from him, was a Welshman who’s been playing second fiddle to his opposite full-back Declan John, in regards to a Cymru fans love-in recently.
That man was right-back Gethin Jones, who I felt was pro-active, forward thinking and committed to getting Wanderers up the pitch all afternoon, whilst dealing with any defensive work calmly and without fuss.
His saving tackle with his trailing leg as Barrow burst forward, in one of only a handful of forays into our defensive third all afternoon, was superb in its timing, importance and execution. I also felt he did more than most to inject purpose and a sense of urgency into our play that is absolutely necessary if you are to break down the type of defensive wall that Barrow caretaker manager Rob Kelly evidently felt was his side’s best avenue in taking something back up the M6.
I was a little concerned at first when Harry Brockbank was injured, as although I’ve been impressed with Jones’ defensive diligence in his displays, I felt he lacked the thrust and also the acceleration that I think Brockbank has in his locker at right-back. I think he provided this on Saturday to a better extent than I’ve seen all season.
The beauty of doing this article later than normal meant I was able to read on the BEN his interview with Marc Iles, someone who has consistently extolled the virtues of the reliable ex-Everton defender. It is clear he is a deep thinker about the game and it is encouraging that he describes how he is always observing how the best exponents of his position play, with the sole aim of facilitating an improvement in his own game. Since our switch to a back four he has benefitted greatly, as despite his attacking improvements on show recently, he is never a right wing-back in my humble opinion.
Now that fans-favourite Brockbank is back from injury and pressing Jones for his place, I am hopeful the level Gethin found in this game can be repeated so he staves off the challenge of the 22 year-old academy graduate.
Having hungry, capable players waiting in the wings and chomping at the bit to get minutes is so beneficial at this stage of the season and I don’t think enough kudos has been given to Football Ventures for their sterling work in backing Ian Evatt in January.
I think if you’d said at the end of the Summer transfer window that in January we would sign Kieran Lee, Declan John, a player with the natural talent of Dapo Afolayan and Marcus Maddison too, despite the latter not having a real run of minutes to show off his undoubted pedigree and quality yet, you would of thought it fanciful we would attract that quality of player. Even more so when you take into account the league position we found ourselves in.
Huge thanks must go to Sharon for making it happen and giving Evatt the best possible chance to turn what looked like the nightmare season to end what’s been a decade of them, with an unrelenting surge for the most unlikely promotion seen since Bruce Rioch’s halcyon days.