Old-style poacher’s com­ing un­der at­tack

The Football League Paper - - GLENN MOORE -

EV­ERY man­ager wants a 20-goals-aseason striker, the penalty-box preda­tor who nicks one when the team is un­der pres­sure and pun­ishes op­po­nents when the team are on top. The al­chemists who turn chances into goals are the play­ers that kids in the play­ground want to em­u­late, whose names sell the most replica shirts, who get the star rat­ings in fan­tasy leagues and video games.

But, while goalscor­ers may at­tract the high­est fees and earn the big­gest wages, do they guar­an­tee success? Billy Kee, the Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley goal ma­chine, ap­pears set for a rare dou­ble this sea­son – top scorer and pro­mo­tion win­ner.

Else­where, in­di­vid­ual ruth­less­ness and team success do not ap­pear to mix.

Prior to this week­end’s pro­gramme, the Cham­pi­onship’s scor­ing charts were led by Matej Vy­dra (Derby), Bobby Reid (Bris­tol City) and Lewis Grab­ban (As­ton Villa), all with 19 goals, fol­lowed by Leon Clarke (Sh­effield United) with 18. Villa are in the play-offs, Derby should join them, but the oth­ers will miss out.

In League One, Jack Mar­riot has hit 26 goals for Peter­bor­ough and Brett Pit­man 22 for Portsmouth, but both look des­tined for an­other year in the third tier.

Chal­lenger

The near­est chal­lenger to 25goal Kee in League Two is Mo­hamed Eisa, whose Chel­tenham team are much nearer the bot­tom than the top.

It is the same in the Premier League, where Liver­pool are a long way adrift of Manchester City de­spite Mo­hamed Salah’s 31 league goals, and Tot­ten­ham fur­ther behind, re­gard­less of Harry Kane’s 26.

The last time the Premier League top scorer won the ti­tle was in 2013 (Robin van Per­sie, Manchester United).

It is no dif­fer­ent in the National League, with Andy Cook’s Tranmere (26 goals) and Danny Rowe’s Fylde (24) trail­ing cham­pi­ons Mac­cles­field (top scorer Scott Wil­son, on 12).

Ac­cepted, there are goalscor­ers go­ing up. Diogo Jota (Wolves, 17), Wi­gan’s Will Grigg (18), Bradley Dack of Black­burn (18) and the Lu­ton pair of Danny Hylton (20) and James Collins (19) have all se­cured pro­mo­tion. But none is the lead­ing scorer.

Last year was sim­i­lar. Billy Sharp’s 30 goals for Sh­effield United car­ried them to pro­mo­tion, but of the other dozen Foot­ball League play­ers to score 20 league goals only three fin­ished in the pro­mo­tion places (Dwight Gayle of New­cas­tle, Brighton’s Glenn Mur­ray and John Mar­quis of Don­caster). Just as many were at clubs that flirted with relegation (Tammy Abra­ham of Bris­tol City, James Vaughan at Bury and Craw­ley’s James Collins).

Risk

Hav­ing a goalscorer, a fox in the box, is ben­e­fi­cial but be­ing over-re­liant on one player is not. It is not just the risk of him be­ing in­jured, it is the way teams con­sciously play to that player’s strength, even when there may be bet­ter op­tions. Un­con­sciously, they rely on one player to get the goals in­stead of feel­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­trib­ute.

In ad­di­tion, the game has changed. English foot­ball is not as di­rect, not as re­liant on the cen­tre-for­ward-and-side­kick com­bi­na­tion of yore.

Play­ing a high line, squeez­ing up to catch play­ers off­side, is less com­mon, es­pe­cially against bet­ter teams.

This forces pro­mo­tion-hunt­ing man­agers to seek other op­tions, other ways of find­ing and us­ing space.

Full-backs at­tack, on the un­der­lap and over­lap. Mid­field­ers drive into the box for cut-backs. Wide play­ers are in­creas­ingly a source of goals (ex­hibit A: Ryan Sesseg­non).

The front man is now as much a space cre­ator, through his move­ment and pass­ing in­ter­ac­tion, as a goalscorer.

I re­mem­ber Derek Hales, the Charlton leg­end, who barely touched the ball against Gilling­ham, but when he did, bang! Gills lost 1-0.

Goals will al­ways be prized, but the days of a poacher, who did noth­ing but score are fad­ing.

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