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) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
2015 was quite a year, veering between hope, mediocrity and occasional disaster. From the heroics at Stoke and Dom Vose’s Gateshead goal , through the drab final weeks of Kevin Wilkin’s reign to the nightmare at Wembley, it’s been a year of extremes. However, there has been one constant throughout: Connor Jennings has indisputably been the man of 2015.
Consistent throughout the year irrespective of the side’s form or the role he’s been asked to play, Jennings has blossomed under Gary Mills and is now a player who would improve many Football League clubs. Our immediate task is to get promoted to ensure that we are the club who can satisfy his ambition.
He started the year by laying down a marker in that remarkable performance at The Britannia Stadium. His tireless running in an often isolated lone role up front against Stoke showed he had terrific heart and also the quality to make life difficult for even the best defenders.
His ability to play in a number of positions and selfless willingness to do just that has been both a blessing and a drawback. Mills seems to have a better handle on Jennings’ versatility than Wilkin did. Last season he spent too long stuck out on the flanks; he can certainly do a job there, but it’s far from his best position.
Under Mills he has been utilised either in attack or the centre of midfield. When Mills started to use him in the latter position in pre-season it raised a few eyebrows, but the deeper role is well suited to him. Jennings is at his best when he’s facing the goal, running onto the ball and able to shoot from distance or pass with his options spread in front of him.
When he plays up front he can be erratic in front of goal, but his recent run of goals showed that he’s the sort of striker who can be irresistible once he hits a hot streak. Of course, we became aware of him during one such run of form, when he scored a hat trick against us for Macclesfield during a terrifically prolific loan spell there. However, that gave a false impression of him. He isn’t a goal machine, he’s much more rounded than that.
He’s a leader too. It’s easy to forget how young he is, but Mills spotted his potential and made him captain. Jennings has rewarded him by constantly working with an admirable energy, although his nature suggests that he’d have been just as diligent without the armband.
Perhaps that strange moment in July when Mills selected Jennings as a left back at Gresford was more significant than we first thought. There was speculation at the time that Jennings would be used there in serious matches, which was well wide of the mark. However, Mills’ decision to put him in an unfamiliar position may well have represented more than an act of improvisation. Sometimes being shunted to a new position is a sign of your place in the pecking order, but Mills wasn’t consigning Jennings to the role of expendable utility player: he was showing that he’d identified a man he could rely on when problems arose.