Continuing the players’ end of season reports we now move on to the defence. We’ve hardly struggled for good defenders in recent times, and our record backs that up. Let’s have a look at how this year’s batch measured up.
He’s taken some stick over the season, some of it justified, some of it the sort of irrational stuff that at least one member of the Latics squad has to put up with every season. A steady performer whose solidity saw him preferred to the quicker and more energetic David Wright when it came to the business end of the season. There are definite question marks over him for next season, and the thought of Henry, Robben, Giggs and the like running at him next season is probably already giving Nicky sleepless nights.
Perhaps never living up to his £500,000 price tag and threatened with potentially disastrous utility player tag, Wright did at one stage look like he’d replaced Nicky Eaden as first choice right back. Jewell surprisingly threw Eaden back in with about ¼ of the season gone condemning his big spend of the summer to a season as a squad player. He’s looked more at home at right back when he’s played, but his performances in the centre drew praise, despite some obvious shortcomings. I’m not sure he can be chalked up as one for the future, but it will be interesting to see what role (if any) he has next season.
It’s been a mixed year for our resident hobbit. Living up to early promise to gain an England U21 cap is just one of the highlights of his season, alongside his 250yard screamer against Ipswich but then, as push came to shove he lost his place never to feature again. To be fair he’s only 19 and it must have been a long hard season even for the most experienced of players. Just prior to losing his place he’d been withdrawn from an international because of a thigh (?) strain and perhaps that played its part too. Bainesy is still definitely one to watch out for and I’m sure he’ll be back in the team at some point soon.
Who’s our best left back? Well after his performances in the run-in the mantle has probably been passed back to Studs. If it hadn’t been for his Andertonitis then Bainesy would, maybe, never had a look in. Pacey, strong decent both defending and attacking he had, until this season, looked like the best of our signings from Motherwell (well, Ok then, behind Ged Brannan). However his injury count almost makes Spurs look fit and healthy. I think he will get, and deserves, at least another year. If not he’ll be a hard one to replace, especially if he’s seen as second choice at left back.
Puzzlingly, there have been times this season where it’s looked like Jacko hasn’t been first choice. He’s not the quickest but his experience and refusal to panic would have got him in my first 11 every game. Unfortunately that lack of place may be the thing that sees him lose out on a contract this summer. Rumours are already abound, linking him with a return to his boyhood team, Luton, perhaps a fitting way for him to finish a playing career. Certainly another season or two at this level would be more dignified than chasing shadows against the big boys. Whelan has intimated that Matt is one player that will be replaced and he himself has let it be known that he wouldn’t be too bothered if a contract offer wasn’t made. If he does go, he should go with the blessing of all of us, the latest in a line of great captains.
Brecks has slowly but surely sneak his way up from squad player to one of the first names on the team sheet and it’s hard to question that. He never really stands out, which for a central defender is probably a bonus, but is always there. The most memorable point of his season, for me at least, would have to be his little bit of ‘skill’ in his assist for Mculloch’s opener against Reading. His prospects for next season are uncertain, it would depend on who Jewell can bring in, but I’m sure he won’t let us down for commitment if called upon.
The best I can really say for Thome is he’s a risk. I’m not a tactical genius, but I wouldn’t imagine that Jewell’s coaching asks Emo to find himself 15 yards in front of the back four, or away towards the touchline leaving a gap you could drive a bus through. Maybe defending in the First Division is different to in the Champions League? He does look a little more silky than our other defenders, and distribution from the back is one thing that we need to improve on, but it’s not enough on its own and I would have thought that Thome is destined for a year in the reserves, if that, next year. Oh, and another thing, was that a handbag?
Our defensive record this season is hardly poor, but the story behind the stats is slightly different. Too many times we’ve been caught for pace or been out thought, and it’s been a struggle building play from the back. Personally I think that this is one area that we definitely need to strengthen over the summer. The one position we’re definitely sorted for is left back, but aside from that we need to look for a little more pace, and someone with a few more ball skills in the middle wouldn’t go amiss.
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