As Dean Keates looks to clear space in his squad, Ben Tollit’s departure was inevitable. It was also a massive missed opportunity, embodying the tale of a season where players’ confidence has been shredded.
I’m a fan of Tollitt, who showed last season that he has the ability to excel in the National League.
However, Dean Keates didn’t inherit the man who had frightened defenders with his pace in the first half of the year.
I found the immediate treatment of Tollitt this season rather odd. Admittedly, he was lacking match sharpness after a move to Blackpool went pear-shaped, but there seemed to be an impatience with a player who had the flair to resolve our ingrained lack of goal threat.
His first start was on the disastrous trip to Hartlepool, when he managed an assist but was withdrawn ten minutes after the break. It wasn’t easy for him to settle into a virtual second eleven which produced a substandard performance, but it was odd that the next match saw him left on the bench until it was too late against Stockport.
2-0 down at the break, the failure to bring Tollitt on until the 71st minute, when the score remained the same, was peculiar. We pulled a goal back, but it wasn’t enough.
He was given a start in the next game, and provided another assist before being withdrawn, again when we were chasing a goal, but was only given one more start and two substitute appearances in our next seven league games.
The last of those appearances from the bench, a fleeting four minute affair, was also Keates’ first game in charge. He inherited a Tollitt whose confidence had surely been battered as a struggling side which was crying out for a player of his ilk neglected him.
It looked like the new manager might have injected some confidence into the winger the following Saturday, when Tollitt was the decisive player in the win over Saint Mirren Colts. The first half was a struggle as the visitors parked the bus and Tollitt, starting at the sharp end of a diamond, toiled to find space between the lines, but Keates switched him out to the left and he took control of the game.
Within 30 seconds of the restart he’d torn past the right back and set up Devonte Redmond’s opener, and he then went on to provide another assist, tee up Redomnd again to cross for the third goal, and score an extravagantly intricate fourth. The right back lasted 14 minutes against Tollitt before being substituted a broken man!
It looked like this was the moment when Tollitt would kick on, but sadly that wasn’t the case. This time his starts were limited by Keates’ use of a diamond, which didn’t accommodate a winger with his attributes.
Still, he clearly tried to fit in with the more disciplined approach Keates extolled, and got a final run in the side when he switched to 4-3-3. He managed another assist against Yeovil, but it proved to be his last.
Despite his struggles, Tollitt actually delivered more than you might think. Only JJ Hooper and Omari Patrick have managed a better combined goal and assist rate per minute this season, and despite his limited pitch time, only Redmond has more assists
Still, Tollitt couldn’t find last season’s form. His decision-making wasn’t as sharp, his desire to take players discouraged as the crowd, naturally anguished by the side’s performances and league position, became audibly impatient when players took risks which didn’t pay off.
I’m very sad to see him go, because I rate him. His spell with us is a missed opportunity. However, his departure was inevitable. We brought the right player in, but by the time we’d brought in the right manager as well, we’d undermined Tollitt to the extent that he couldn’t help him out. I wish him all the best, and dream of a rejuvenated Ben Tollitt returning in glory one day.