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.
Welcome to the decisive point of the season. Gary Mills has cleared the decks, ending four players’ loan spells at The Racecourse on Saturday to give himself scope to reshape his squad. With two senior players out on loan to add to the victims of his cull, Mills has made his intentions clear. January is the month when he shapes the rest of our campaign.
It will be interesting to see which areas of the team he decides to refresh. You would assume that right back is an area he’d be tempted to have a close look at.
Javan Vidal’s injury has caused us a problem and the way the manager has alternated between Manny Smith and Ross White suggests he’s not convinced that he has found a solution. The fact that he hasn’t turned to Mark Carrington suggests he doesn’t seem him as anything other than a midfielder, so you’d think he’d be looking to bolster the right side of his defence, at least in the short term.
Another area he’ll consider is the middle of his attack. James Grey’s statistics certainly stack up as he’s scored every 171 minutes that he’s been on the pitch this season, which is better than any of his team mates have managed. However, his season has been interrupted and he really hasn’t been able to get any momentum going since returning from injury in October.
Since then he’s made it onto the pitch in nine of our ten games, but has managed a full ninety minutes just once. Indeed, he’s only started twice in that time, and although he’s hit the net a couple of times off the bench it looks like he needs a good run in the first team to get his confidence going. The problem is, as the play-offs drift further away from us it’s a lot less likely that Mills will be able to show the patience Grey needs in his team selection.
We saw Wes York start as a striker for the first time under Mills last Saturday, Kayden Jackson made an impressive impact from the bench too, and there must be a temptation to have a further look at what John Cofie can do. There’s a lot of competition for Grey, and it’s unlikely Mills will field two strikers in a game very often: his decision to do so at Southport was surely a reaction to the fact that they are one of the few sides in the National League who play 4-4-2. If Mills decides there’s no time to see if these options offer him a solution, he’ll surely delve into the loan market for a striker.
Whether he’ll want to bolster the centre of midfield is also an interesting question. Simon Heslop’s arrival might satisfy him in that part of the pitch, where he has plenty of options but has seen our ability to control games fluctuate wildly from match to match.
It’s decision time for Mills, and what he choses to do will determine our fate this season.