Getting the best out of Connor

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c)


He might have scored in our last two games, but a question still vexes me. Are we getting the best out of Connor Jennings, and if not, how should we set about doing so?

Let’s not forget that Jennings scored sixteen goals at this level last season. Furthermore, injuries, a hiatus between loan spells and, for one match, a queue on the M62, meant he only started twenty five games while amassing that impressive tally. That’s a rather tasty strike rate.

Encouragingly his two recent six yard finishes suggested he can still get into the danger zone, but until last weekend it was only when Jennings switched to a more central position for the last twenty minutes that he got into threatening positions.

I’m not stupid and I’m not Roman Abramovic: I know that you can’t build a football team for a real match as you would one for a fantasy league. You can’t just pack the side with glamourous goal scorers, sit back and wait for the goals to roll in because the balance would be wrong. Louis Moult is our central striker, and on his showings so far deserves to be in that role. You can’t just throw Jennings up top alongside Moult, add Andy Bishop for good measure, and expect us to score five goals in every match.

However, you can’t help feeling that there are other ways to get the most out of Jennings and I’ll be interested to see how Wilkin, who strikes me as a genuinely deep thinker about the game, will approach the conundrum.

There’s another issue. Is playing Jennings deeper forcing him into areas of the pitch where he not only cannot influence matters, but becomes a danger to us? If he fails to track back from the right flank-and to be fair to the bloke, it isn’t his natural game-then we’re in danger of exposing Mark Carrington.

However, when he goes back there’s a feeling he might try a little too hard and make errors. Nuneaton’s one real effort against us came when he came back to help our defence and conceded a free kick on the edge of the box; Gateshead’s first goal came when he dropped deep and tried a first time lay-off which gave possession away cheaply.

In the opposing half those flicks are one of his strengths. His ability to pop the ball round the corner speeds up the pace of our approach play, and he’s good at them. When he got close enough to Moult to try them at Dartford their partnership looked impressive. It’s not a percentage choice in his own half though, and playing on the right that’s often the area of the pitch he finds himself in.

Jennings had game time in a central area in the friendlies, and dropped into hole behind to good effect. I wonder if Wilkin might explore this avenue more as the season goes on. Certainly, Jennings has the potential to make an impact in more threatening areas of the pitch.

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