We’re still getting to know our new manager, but we learned something interesting about him this week: he likes to get his transfer business done early.
There are certainly no flies on Graham Barrow when it comes to sorting out his signings. Within a week of the transfer window opening he’d drafted in two new strikers, converted a loan into a permanent deal and made serious progress in other directions.
The two matches against Salford over the festive period offered us plenty of food for thought about where Barrow needed to address his attention.
It’s been obvious that we need to increase our creativity and goal threat if we’re to improve. The first match, that glorious 5-1 demolition of Salford on Boxing Day, might seem an odd starting point for a discussion on our short-comings in attack, but actually it summed that issue up quite nicely.
None of our starting front three were amongst the goals in that match. All three of them played superbly, but their work was in the service of others. Of the trio, Bobby Grant looks to be the one most likely to chip in with a fair number of goals, but he hasn’t quite found his range yet. I suspect they will come, but he’s more likely to pose a goal threat cutting in from the right onto his stronger foot, meaning the introduction of central strikers was crucial so Grant doesn’t have to play through the middle.
The other two strikers, Stuart Beavon and Paul Rutherford, are two of my favourite players in this team, and I can easily envisage both of them playing a key role in a title-winning campaign. However, I doubt if either of them would reach double figures in a season. Their strengths lie in their excellent movement and good service into the box, and those qualities were abundantly clear against Salford. However, we can’t expect Brad Walker to beat two men and wallop one in from distance on a regular basis, or expect Akil Wright to consistently find the back of the net when he has three career goals to his credit. Players like Beavon and Rutherford need goal-hungry strikers to feed off them.
The Salford victory was a magnificent performance, but it was a perfect storm of circumstances rather than a template we would be able to follow for the rest of the season.
The defeat at Salford’s hands a week later was a clear illustration of our need for more cutting edge. The superb away support were right to stay behind and applaud the players for their efforts, even though we didn’t look like we could break the home team down. It’s exceptionally difficult to get through a side when they park the bus, and when a team with the individual quality of Salford are willing to apply themselves to defending with discipline you’ve a real problem on your hands.
Still, our lack of attacking options limited our chances of breaking them down. Luke Summerfield is the one midfielder likely to find defence-splitting passes, and in attack we had nobody who could physically dominate centre backs, pinning them back and making the ball stick in the box.
None of that is a criticism of the players in a promising squad. However, of all the sides at the top of the table, we are the one with the most potential to improve, and that excites me. If the solutions Barrow has found to this issue are the right ones, we ought to make a real fist of this title challenge.
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.