So David Artell might be coming back to The Racecourse. That’s news I’d offer a qualified welcome to.
Signing Artell is a good move per se. He illustrated last season that he’s a strong stopper and a genuine leader, not to mention the sort of bloke who looks to referee the match himself remaining constantly in the officials’ ears (bearing in mind the erratic, impressionable nature of Conference refs, that’s no bad thing!)
So Artell would be an asset in the Conference, no question about that. However, should he arrive at The Racecourse we might have a rather limited range of options at the heart of our defence.
I’ve already touched upon this, but the fact is that the players who I’d assume would represent our four first choices at centre back – Mark Creighton, Artell, Stephen Wright and Leon Clowes – are all cut from pretty much the same cloth.
Each of them is big and strong, certainly able to impose themselves in tackles and aerial challenges. However, there’s very little in the way of pace amongst that quartet, and that’s where we could be undone.
A moment in last Sunday’s match brought that home to me. Charlie Adam clipped a beautifully weighted ball which dropped just behind our back four in the left channel. It came to nothing, but I immediately thought that was the ball we’ll have to beware this season. If you turn our defenders, they’ll have a job getting back into the game.
We know that to our great cost. In the play-off final last season, with just over five minutes left, an identical ball soared over Artell and only Martin Riley’s pace on the cover prevented Newport from taking the lead.
Two minutes later they played the same ball again, it skidded off Artell’s head and Riley wasn’t able to get across in time. The result: Newport are having a whale of a time back in the Football League and we’re in the Skrill Conference.
I like Artell, and would be happy to see him return, but if he’s the only addition at the back, we might have to consider changing our style of play to compensate for a lack of pace at the back. We could defend a little deeper, reducing the amount of room in behind our back four, but that would have to be achieved at the expense of our pressing further up the pitch. We can’t press if the defenders sit back: that would create a potentially catastrophic gap between midfield and defence.
I hope Artell signs. I hope we can bring in another defender with a bit of pace as well though. Then we’d really look solid at the back.