There’s not a great deal to excite us in the remainder of the season, but watching how Kevin Wilkin goes about assessing his options will be interesting. How he deploys his fresh-from-the-box international centre back is one of the main items I’ll be monitoring.
Dave Artell’s season has taken a turn which I certainly didn’t foresee. I accept that he divides opinion, and there are plenty who aren’t sold on him, but for me he’s a solid option at the heart of the defence and was certainly a sensible acquisition in the circumstances by Andy Morrell.
We began the season short of cover at centre back and short of wriggle room with the wage bill. Artell was the percentage option as after his loan spell last season we knew exactly what we were getting. Criticism of the Gibraltar international seems to centre on his lack of pace, and nobody could question that fact, but it seems that those painful last five minutes of the play-off final have turned into a stick to beat him with. Twice, in virtually identical circumstances, a long ball got over the top of him and the second led to the decisive opening goal.
Traumatic, yes, but did we really need to see that happen to know he wasn’t Usain Bolt? It was hardly a revelation! There are plenty of centre backs who lack pace but still thrive and Artell brought a strength to the side which we needed.
I might also point out that another crucial service he did for the team this season was to keep Junior Ntame out of the side. I was genuinely flummoxed by those who watching Ntame and proclaimed he was wonderful. He was wild, positionally naive and much more vulnerable to the ball dropping over his head than the far slower Artell. The big man might not quite bring about that reassuring sense of calm which Nat Knight-Percival spread through team and fans alike, but he certainly doesn’t provoke the wide-eyed terror I experienced whenever Ntame was called into action!
So Artell established himself this season as one of the more stable pillars in a shaky defence, which is faint praise, I know, but at least there was a sturdy air about him.
When Danny Livesey came to The Racecourse I assumed the first choice partnership would comprise of these two experienced centre backs. I put Artell’s immediate demotion to the bench as simply an attempt to nurse his aching limbs through to the close of the season as Andy Morrell had spoken often of how he needed a rest to recover from a niggling injury. However, he’s yet to the return to the starting eleven, his only pitch time since Livesey’s arrival being an unhappy second half appearance in the calamity at Braintree.
It’s too soon to try to read Wilkin’s thoughts on the team, but clearly Artell was fourth choice centre back under Billy Barr, behind Livesey, Stephen Wright and Steve Tomassen. Where Wilkin puts him in the pecking order-unusually he did include both Artell and Tomassen in a lop-sided bench for his first game-will be revealing.