Last Saturday was an interesting glimpse into the evolution of the 3-5-2 Dean Keates has reverted to.
There were some interesting alterations, some forced to an extent by injury, which made the new formation look more fluent than it had done previously.
The combination of Adi Yussuf and Jordan Ponticelli up front was a revelation. This was the first time they started together in the same game: previously they’d spent 70 minutes as a pair together, across three games, when one or the other had come off the bench.
They showed some promise during those brief spells in partnership. Yussuf did well off the bench at Stockport, and the duo both had chances to pull a goal back; against Maidenhead Yussuf’s ability to hold the ball up gave Ponticelli scope to get into dangerous areas; and they were on the pitch together as the remarkable fight-back against Weymouth unfolded.
They look capable of gelling as a pair and offering us a bit more cutting edge up front.
As I’ve previously mentioned, this formation ought to suit Dan Jarvis, who made his first league start of the season against Dover. He took the opportunity.
Jarvis prompted intelligently and worked diligently when we lost the ball. He’s on the same wavelength as similarly technical players like Ponticelli and Jordan Davies, and also offered something which might solve our difficulty creating chances.
He hit the net early on, only for the goal to be controversially disallowed for a foul by Reece Hall-Johnson. The result made the incident irrelevant – although for what it’s worth, for me it was a 50-50 decision. However, the way the move unfolded is extremely pertinent. It was just one of a number of times in the match when Jarvis got into the penalty area, and often actually got beyond the strikers, as he did for his disallowed goal.
We don’t really have another player who naturally can do that, and to have another player attacking the six yard box alongside our forwards would surely add to our threat in front of goal.
Perhaps the most interesting alteration was at the back. Injuries meant James Horsfield slotted into the back three and he did an excellent job. Perhaps more importantly, he affected the balance of our defence in a very interesting way.
Previously we’ve been playing with two stoppers in Fiacre Kelleher and Shaun Pearson, when the traditional way to set up a back three is to have one such player in the middle and players who can carry the ball out on either side.
On Saturday, Horsfield played on the right and Theo Vassell on the left: two players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet. It helped us in the transition, and we were able to break more fluently as a consequence. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Hall-Johnson was absolutely outstanding when he had a centre back inside him who was able to feed him accurately higher up the pitch.
All teams evolve, and hopefully these small alterations will help us to tweak our formation and find a balance which propels us up the table.