Who’s our Number 9?
The answer to this depends on injuries to a large extent, of course. Working on the assumption that this is too early for JJ Hooper, Jason Oswell is surely first in line. If he’s not fit, and Leighton McIntosh isn’t either, it boils down to Bobby Grant or Mark Harris. Harris played through the middle for the Wales Under-21s last week, and has sniffed out all but one of his goals this season from runs through the centre. But Bryan Hughes often likes to have a striker who can engage with centre backs and wear them down, a quality Grant could provide. Poor Hughes must be sick of contemplating what his best attacking options are!
Who’s in the hole?
Assuming we stick with the 4-2-3-1, which I have misgivings about, who plays off the striker? Much will depend on which strikers are fit of course, as mentioned above. But will Devonte Redmond, who was left out of the side for the first time in our last league match, be brought straight back in? Akil Wright played in the hole in that match, and either got into a lot of great positions or missed the chances to win the match, depending on if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty sort of person. Has he done enough to keep his place?
Can Doug Tharme Get His Wish?
Doug Tharme has made his desire for first team football clear this week. Now he’s returned from Telford, there’s little sense in letting him stew on the bench. But he’s got a trio of experienced centre-backs to get past in Shaun Pearson, Jake Lawlor and Michael Chambers. Adam Barton might be ahead of him in the pecking order too, especially if we play three at the back.
Tharme has genuine promise, and is a very good passer of the ball from the back. He’s definitely worth persevering with, but he’s right when he says he’s reached the point where he needs first team football. The question is, will his opportunities be limited at the moment?
For me, Pearson and Lawlor are the first choice pair, but I’m comfortable with Tharme as the next centre back we turn to, especially as Dean Keates saw things that way a couple of years ago. Or could he cover across the back four? He made his initial first team appearances in pre-season as a left back. Maybe he could get minutes by illustrating his versatility.
Will Jake Bickerstaff Feature?
Jake Bickerstaff enjoyed an impressive debut in peculiar circumstances last week, and a range of attacking injuries mean he has a chance of being in the squad today, and maybe even starting.
Under normal circumstances, you’d think perhaps he needs a bit more development time, possibly on loan, but he showed last Saturday that he can trouble defences in senior football; he got round the side of the Ayr defence a couple of times, and took his goal beautifully. The calm way he dispatched his penalty suggests he wouldn’t be over-awed by a league match. A cameo off the bench could be very interesting.
Did the Ayr match do anything for morale?
Bryan Hughes has spoken openly of a need to boost morale, and hopes the penalty win over Ayr will have done the trick. It was a good win considering the side put out, and it certainly felt significant that we prevailed in a tight contest, holding our nerve impressively for the penalties. But did this boost the morale of the first team or just the second string that lined up in that match? Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Devonte Redmond, Ben Tollitt and possibly Jake Bickerstaff seem to be the only players from last week with a chance of starting today, and a side which features none of them is feasible, if not recommended.