Hate To Say I Told You So

Well, who’da thunk it? On Saturday we finally picked the guy whose qualities seem to address the short-comings we’ve shown in the last couple of months and, guess what? We looked all the better for it!

I’m not about to claim Ben Tollitt is the messiah, that he’s proven he’s the player we ought to build our team around, or even that he’s likely to sustain or improve his form as the games go on. But I don’t think anybody could argue that we didn’t look all the better for having him in our front three.

Tollit didn’t quite look up to full pace yet, which is perfectly understandable as he’s just spent two months with us without getting into the team. He showed more than enough to suggest that Graham Barrow missed a bit of an open goal by failing to throw him into the fray to see what he could do, though. From quite early on you could see that the right side of Dagenham’s defence had a great deal more respect for him than his previous manager did as they backed off him, scared that if they stepped up to engage him, he’d spring past them.

Pace is a wonderful weapon in football, able to strike fear into a defender even when the end product isn’t quite there. Tollitt is fast with the ball at his feet, and Dagenham knew it.

It wasn’t simply straight-line speed that Tollitt brought to the table though, His weight of pass is genuinely impressive; as good as I’ve seen in the final third for some time by a Wrexham player. There were a couple of nice examples of this on Saturday, where he popped well-weighted balls into the feet of a player who, though tightly-marked, was invited by the weight and placement of the pass to take a touch which would open things up.

The most obvious example of this came half way through the first half, when he threaded a fine pass to Akil Wright who, although hemmed in by defenders, was suddenly able to see a path beyond them. Wright’s touch was heavy, and when Tollitt was the quickest to anticipate the loose ball he was flagged offside, but it was a little moment of quality which, again, made the decision to exclude him look costly.

Tollitt’s ability to find space was also valuable as Dagenham sat deep and looked to repel us. He played a role in the goal by drifting back and pulling the covering defender with him, leaving the full back one-on-one with James Jennings, who powered past him to set up the goal. Tollitt makes himself available as often as possible, and gives players with a decent passing range a forwards option. It was a shame that Luke Summerfield, our best playmaker, wasn’t fit for the game as I suspect he’d have enjoyed looking to pick Tollitt out.

Again, that makes the decision to omit Tollitt look peculiar. At Fylde, Barrow was desperately exhorting his players to look for the forward pass in order to catch the opposition out before they could settle into their defensive block, yet he refused to select the player who most naturally finds space to make himself available for that forward pass.

Still, Tollitt’s movement did receive its reward, especially after the introduction of Stuart Beavon and Paul Rutherford, two players whose movement and awareness of what is around them are superior to most at this level.

As my co-commentator, Andy Parkinson, pointed out on Saturday, in the latter stages of the game Tollitt also became a very useful defensive tool. He wasn’t referring to his willingness to track back, although to be fair he did chase back consistently when he lost the ball and tended to retrieve it. Instead, he was thinking of how, in the closing stages, Tollitt became a very useful release valve. As Dagenham started to come forwards, Tollitt’s ability to pick the ball up deep and accelerate through the thirds, carrying the ball long distances, became invaluable. He relieved pressure, gave our defence a chance to move their line higher up the pitch, and offered everybody else a breather. Andy made him man of the match, and had it been my call, I’d have done the same.

Bryan Hughes should be applauded for doing the obvious thing and addressing our lack of attacking directness by putting our most direct attacking threat in the starting line-up. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is the obvious one. Putting Tollitt into his side seemed smart to me!

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