After Sam Wedgbury’s rather unnecessary departure last Summer, it was important that we found a player capable of adding that non-stop energy to the centre of our midfield. Who knew that the right man was in our squad already?
It’s good to see Paul Rutherford back in the squad again after his early season injury. Rutherford, after all, has always been the most solid and reliable of professionals, always willing to go the extra mile and able to adapt without complaint to a number of situations. Central midfield though? That seemed a bit of a push.
At least, it did until we played Fylde. When Luke Young went off injured in the first half, the most obvious like-for-like replacement off the bench was Mark Carrington. However, Sam Ricketts opted to tuck Rutherford inside and do a box-to-box job in front of Akil Wright. The result was a revelation, as Rutherford’s constant running and intelligent movement caused the visitors all sorts of problems.
In this unfamiliar position he maintained his fine form at Maidenhead, where for me he was our best player, and was equally influential the following Saturday at Eastleigh until injury forced him off the pitch.
Rutherford is one of the good guys, a professional who clearly appreciates the opportunity to enjoy being paid to kick a ball around. He has also added another option for Ricketts as he looks for a squad which is versatile and offers him the opportunity to rotate as the season goes on. He arrived as a winger, and scored a memorable injury time winner in his second game for us, at Guiseley, but it was in his second season that he really started to shine. I often felt that in that initial season his intelligent movement wasn’t being exploited: too many players in the squad simply weren’t able to see what he was doing.
When Dean Keates brought in a higher calibre of player around him, and often used his energetic style of play as a weapon when we pressed high up the pitch, we started to get more reward for his efforts.
Adding a midfield string to his bow is good for Rutherford as well as for Ricketts. Rutherford’s industry is unchallenged, and being able to utilise it in more than one position merely increases his value to the manager.
Ricketts has managed to put together a nicely flexible squad. Plenty of players look comfortable in more than one position (and of course, he has Mark Carrington, the Swiss Army Knife of football, who can play anywhere and apparently also has a tool for removing stones from a horse’s hoof.) Rutherford’s newfound utility in the middle of the pitch adds to those options, and adds valuable character to a strong-minded squad too
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.