Dean Keates has made it clear that his squad are playing for contracts, and Jordan White has come up with a cunning ploy to appeal to his manager by becoming two players in one!
It was logical to drop the big striker into the back four last Saturday when injuries meant Martin Riley was the only central defender available. After all, he’s big and strong, so there’s the two major boxes ticked for that position.
He did well too. Perhaps he needed a little time to settle in the first period, but in the second he really grew into the role, making key interceptions, winning headers and showing a pleasing, if unsurprising, composure on the ball. Indeed, a couple of our dangerous breaks in the closing minutes came because he was able to pass his way out from the back rather than just thump the ball clear.
A lot of people compared his radical conversion to that of Nat Knight-Percival under Dean Saunders, but I don’t think that’s the best parallel. Admittedly, Knight-Percival also dropped back from a more advanced position, but he was a winger, albeit one recruited from John Beck’s long-ball Histon side who was therefore used to winning as many aerial duels out wide as an orthodox target man would.
However, it was Knight-Percival’s mobility which made him stand out as a central defender. He dovetailed beautifully with Mark Creighton as the former provided the power and he covered round the back. White is fulfilling the Beast’s role in his defensive reincarnation.
A convert to centre back in the early 1990s might be a more tempting comparison. Mark Sertori’s journey from striker to defender was fuelled partly by the transferrable skills he possessed, and partly by Brian Flynn’s inability to offload him once he’d decided he wasn’t the target man he was looking for.
He was terrifically strong – his trademark move, bizarrely, was an ability to run the ball behind for a goal kick from pretty much any point in the defensive third. It often looked risky, but I can’t recall him ever being caught out as he blocked the striker off and shepherded the ball to safety.
The conversion was successful enough for him to play at the back when we beat Arsenal, but not so effective that he could dissuade Flynn to use the money earned by that cup run to replace him with two experienced centre backs in Tony Humes and Mel Pejic!
However, unlike White, his greatest attribute was pace. Stylistically, a better comparison would be Dean Spink. Although he was admirably diligent up front you could see why Flynn was quite quick to explore his defensive potential. Spink didn’t score too many up front – 12 in 125 appearances – and his attacking headers tended to be weak affairs: winning aerial duels was no problem, but he was better at heading for distance than power and accuracy. In other words, he headed the ball like a centre back.
However, that’s also an unsatisfactory comparison with White. He arrived with the ability to play at the back as well as up front, and the experience he’d already gained was crucial to his success, as his lack of pace meant he had to back him game up with plenty of positional nous, unlike the defensive neophyte White.
The most accurate comparison with White is one I’m constantly derided for by club’s media team, because I make it so often. They’ve got a point, but the reason I compare him to Jim Steel is because the similarities really are striking.
Like the early-80s cult hero, White is a target man from Scotland. Physically they are cut from the same cloth, with well-developed upper body strength. And now White has undergone a conversion to centre back, just as Steel did. For both ourselves and tomorrow’s visitors, Tranmere, Steel was an occasional stopper, and executed the role with aggressive aplomb.
White has shown he can do the same, and although I suspect Keates will look to give a specialist a go in that position, and introduce Olly Marx to the side now he’s fit, White has shown he has another string to his bow.
For his versatility, attitude and the possibility that, with a full pre-season, he might have more again to offer, I’d say White has earned himself a chance next season.
This is 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.