Luke Summerfield and the Pursuit of Perfection

If Luke Summerfield had headed in a late fourth for Wrexham last Saturday he’d have capped a perfect day with a perfect hat trick. (I’m sure a perfect hat trick hasn’t been a thing until recently, but it’s been an answer on “Pointless” now, so it’s official!) Whatever part of his anatomy would have stuck in his theoretical third doesn’t matter though: the thing is, his hunt for a third mattered on a day which told us so much about him.

“For some reason fate decided he’d been rewarded fully already, and found increasingly varied manners to deny him.

For the record, Summerfield has never scored a hat trick in professional football. Heck, he hasn’t scored two goals in a game before last Saturday, a surprising fact for a player who has played 470 matches in attacking positions! His last league goal in open play before Saturday’s screamer was for Grimsby three and a half years ago! No wonder the possibility of a hat trick was so attractive to him!

The passionate celebrations for both his goals showed what the performance meant to him, but his desperation for a third was the narrative of the last ten minutes. It would have been an apt reward for a fine performance, and the opportunities kept coming, but for some reason fate decided he’d been rewarded fully already, and found increasingly varied manners to deny him.

First came the referee’s intervention, blowing prematurely for a free kick when Luke Young was fouled on the edge of the area as the ball rolled to Summerfield, who dispatched it into the bottom corner! Admittedly, the keeper had stood up upon hearing the whistle, so he might have saved it. However, he was unsighted, so the ref might have denied Summerfield the match ball.

Then, from the free kick Summerfield nails it towards the top corner, only for it to flick the wall and go behind. And from that corner he snatches at a close range snapshot and puts it into the side-netting.

Each incident was met with increasing frustration from a man on a mission. There was a final cruel moment, as a late break offered Davis Keillor-Dunn the opportunity to roll Summerfield in on goal. However, the pass arrived behind the substitute and, fighting to keep his balance, he chose to play in Tyler Reid, who was making the same run as Summerfield, but at a wider angle which made the pass easier.

Hope hadn’t died just yet though. Summerfield screams for a cut-back. Reid, in a great shooting position decides to ignore him and go for goal. Freeze-frame at the moment he hits the ball and you can see he’s made the right decision: he has a clear sight of goal and is under no pressure. Press play, absorb how high up the Kop the ball goes, and join Summerfield in screaming at Reid that he should have passed!

And that was that. No hat trick, no match ball. He deserved them, but Summerfield’s work was done. He had done more than merely make a decisive contribution to a football match: he’d clarified matters for both manager and fans.

Firstly, his crucial intervention teed up a victory which felt like a watershed. Adorned with a couple of new signings, we looked nothing like a side which is languishing at the foot of the table. From a dysfunctional unit with clear areas of weakness, we looked like a fluent attacking side built on sold foundations. It’s not as if we’ve not had good performances this season – take a look at our home matches and you’ll see a string of fine wins over strong opposition – but the casual way we put Woking away, creating a raft of chances, was different. This wasn’t a side springing a tactical surprise and gutsily going mano a mano with a promotion candidate; it was the emphatic dismissal of inferior opposition.

Obviously, a key issue recently has been inconsistency, and by definition one win doesn’t guarantee we’ve put that behind us. But this felt different: two new signings were crucial and Keates is aiming for four more. If they match the quality of what he has already brought in this season, we’ll have the beginnings of a renaissance on our hands.

It wasn’t just as the key component in an improved performance that Summerfield was important though. His personal contribution epitomised something too. Summerfield has come in for criticism this season, often unfairly in my opinion. He’s been described consistently as too similar to Luke Young, a complaint I can’t see personally. His set pieces have been decried as less effective than last season, and his performances as wan and listless.

In truth, I thought he started the season very well. He and Young were both full of industry and drive, but they had an insurmountable tactical problem. As Bryan Hughes sought to make us more threatening by fielding very attacking formations, the midfield pivot were left exposed and outnumbered. Therefore, we watched the odd spectacle of two midfielders playing well but consistently losing the midfield battle. They did all they could, but were simply outnumbered: it was too easy to get round the sides of them because the opposition had extra players in the middle of the pitch, and as they were overrun, we found ourselves horribly open to the counter-attack.

Summerfield’s confidence appeared to suffer as a result, and he was unable to hold down a regular place in Keates’ side. Yet last Saturday he seemed to lead a charge of refreshed players. Summerfield was effervescent, driving forwards from deep positions from the off, and taking up threatening positions once we’d forced Woking into their own half. He wasn’t alone: Shaun Pearson looked rejuvenated, putting in a typically aggressive performance. The way he drew Jamal Loza into a daft first yellow card was prime Pearsonhousery. Jake Lawlor was decisive and certain in the key opening exchanges and James Jennings was pleasingly combative up and down the flank, enjoying the link with Dan Jarvis. All our old favourites were back, and Summerfield was leading them. Hopefully the inconsistency conundrum is solved and this is what we can enjoy in the second half of the season.

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