So we’ve signed a centre back, “the immovable water feature” as he’ll be known from now on. Obviously we all need to reserve judgement until he’s settled in, but my recollection of his performance against us for Gainsborough Trinity in the FA Trophy semi-final is positive and he’s certainly the right sort of signing for our current situation.
Ever since the season started I’d felt we needed to bring in a centre back: I still do, but my reason for thinking it has changed. As the campaign began I was quite simply concerned that we didn’t have enough cover for our first choice duo of Manny Smith and Blaine Hudson. If either of them were injured our only options were a raft of young defenders: Steve Tomassen, Leon Clowes and Anthony Stephens.
Tomassen had done alright for us last season, while Stephens and Clowes had very little first team experience between them and the latter was sadly quite injury-prone. Before long Clowes had been released, Stephens was loaned out, and our defensive ranks looked even more bare, a fact emphasised by the fact that Neil Ashton, who feasibly could slide across to fill in at centre back, only had Johnny Hunt as cover at left back.
Circumstances have changed since then, and the emergence of Ross White has made me feel less concerned at the prospect of an under-staffed centre of our defence. White was clearly a prospect from what I saw of him with the youth team last season, but he has rewarded Kevin Wilkin’s faith in him by appearing to be ready sooner than I expected, particularly in the heart of the back four. With his mobility I thought a spell settling in a right back to get used to the demands of first team football might have appropriate – it worked for Mark McGregor, after all.
Wilkin clearly thought the same way, but if anything White has looked more comfortable when thrust up against the big beasts Conference teams field through the middle than he has at full back; this is partly because some of his early appearances at right back were made when we were playing a 4-2-3-1 which left the full backs more exposed.
I’m not advocating White as a centre back who’s ready to hold down a regular place for the season: don’t forget how young he is. But he’s certainly developed into reliable cover for the first choice duo, as he’s showed this week against Stockport.
With Tomassen clearly straining at the bit for a chance, I no longer feel that we’re understaffed at centre back. But I still feel Waterfall’s arrival is judicious.
Part of my logic is very basic: if you add good players to your squad, it improves. But I also think a new centre back addresses an important issue. An issue which makes me feel nervous before games like tomorrow’s.
I’m happy with the central defensive pairing we’ve fielded all season. Manny Smith is a tremendous addition to our squad, good enough to stand alongside the likes of Mark Creighton, Nat Knight-Percival and Martin Riley as the best centre backs we’ve had in the Conference. Alongside him, Blaine Hudson has developed tremendously well this season, as I’d hoped he would. I must admit that I felt he took a little while to settle at the start of the season, and it was a few weeks before he really started imposing himself as a man of his physique ought to. But he did, and he’s been an astute signing.
But the defensive unit as a whole has been a little too leaky. I’m not blaming Smith or Hudson, and I’m not trying to point the finger at anyone else. There’s just been a collective adequacy from the defence rather than the reliable solidity you can build success on. We just don’t keep enough clean sheets.
That’s where my unease before games like tomorrow’s comes in. If we are going to make the most of our games in hand and threaten the play-offs we’ve got to get ruthless in the league. And we’ve certainly got to be winning home games against a side which is bottom of the table and eleven points adrift of safety with the minimum of fuss. Yet these are the sort of games we’ve made heavy weather of. As I said earlier, we don’t keep enough clean sheets, and all games are difficult to win if the other side scores. Just look at what happened when Dartford, whose away form was awful at the time, came to The Racecourse.
So although I can’t say I’m unhappy at anyone at the back, attempting to add a player who will slot straight into the back four and address the issue of the lack of clean sheets is a wise idea. Let’s hope Waterfall is the man for the job.