If only Nottingham Forest put McDonagh’s progress first!

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.

So the necessary reshuffle in our squad has begun. The fact that Dean Keates first moved to free up space in his forward line told us that he’s looking to remedy our lack of firepower with the utmost urgency.

There’s a statistic which sums up our situation neatly. Under Gary Mills we scored a dismal average of 0.7 goals per game this season; under Keates we’ve managed 1.1. It’s better, but not still good enough.

Still, the fact that Keates is squeezing almost twice as many goals per game out of the poorly-assembled squad Mills bequeathed him tells you a couple of things: that Keates is a genuine upgrade from his predecessor; and that even so, you can’t expect him to be a miracle worker.

This side has failed all season to provide much of a goal threat. In thirty matches we’ve scored three goals just twice, but have failed to score at all 14 times. That’s a damning indictment of our lack of creativity and firepower, and Gary Mills knew it.

Having failed to recruit effectively in the Summer, Mills was fully aware that the sides he was fielding didn’t have goals in them. Hence, in away games he’d regularly rip things up once we went behind, switching to what was essentially a 4-2-4, because he knew we weren’t likely to score unless we took wild risks. The outcome, inevitably, was that we were left wide open and conceded more, of course.

The situation has improved under Keates, but not enough to convince him he should persevere with the players he inherited. It seems he was open to the idea of extending Gerry McDonagh’s loan spell, but the discussion floundered because the initial move was a personal favour to Mills’ assistant Darren Caskey. If that’s the case, it’s a remarkably short-sighted stance for his parent club, Nottingham Forest, as the striker was surely benefitting from playing in such a competitive league. No doubt he was being stretched by our relentless schedule, but he wasn’t showing signs of being worn down by the strain of battling in the face of our poor form.

Gary Mills and Darren Caskey recreate an 80s pop video.
Gary Mills and Darren Caskey recreate an 80s pop video.

Furthermore, the Southport double-header suggested his pairing with Jordan White was an unlikely smart move. On paper, a partnership of two big strikers seems unpromising. It wasn’t a Chris Armstrong-Andy Preece style marriage; they were two powerfully explosive big men who had pace. White and McDonagh appear, on the surface, to both  be in more of a traditional target man mould, and you’d think that such a duo would struggle to gel, making the same runs and lacking the acceleration to run in behind.

Yet it worked, because appearances can be deceptive. McDonagh is happy dropping wide to run at men, and is quicker than a bloke his size ought to be once he gets a head of steam going. White is also fairly fleet of foot, but he also has an extra aspect to his play that made the partnership work. He’s adept at laying the ball off accurately, and makes quick decisions when he’s bringing others into play, which is essential when you get close to the box and space is short.

I’m not at all convinced, despite his scoring record, that he’s the 30-goal-a-season man fans are hankering after; instead, I suspect that he’s a good target man who will show his worth in his ability to bring others into play. Let’s hope Keates can bring in a genuine predator to feed off him, because he won’t have the chance to explore his partnership with McDonagh any further.

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