Phil Parkinson has a problem. It’s of his own making and, fortunately, it’s a problem he will be delighted to have.
Elliot Lee’s adaptation to a deeper role in our midfield has been an enormous step forward in the evolution of the team.
At the start of the season we tried to alter our shape to accommodate him, and it didn’t quite work. Lee would play as a number ten, floating behind our deadly strike partnership, prompting, creating.
There were no problems with his levels of performance: he won the opening game of the season against Eastleigh with a spectacular cameo off the bench and in subsequent games his quality was obvious.
The trouble was that when we used him in that manner, the team looked disjointed. Over the course of the second half of last season, we’ve developed a grooved manner of playing. Everybody knows their role, knows what to do in specific situations and what other players would do too.
Changing the shape of the side disrupted that. When Lee started, he clearly added class to the side, but when he didn’t we looked more like the side which blew teams away week-in, week-out from January to April.
So what was the solution? Before Jordan Davies’ unfortunate injury against Farnborough, he’d already suffered from a niggling knock, which gave Parkinson the opportunity to try something different, and utilise Lee in a position more similar to Davies’.
The benefits were obvious: the side could retain its familiar balance despite the change in personnel. However, there was a risk too. Would Lee adapt to a deeper role?
The answer is a resounding yes. Lee brings terrific energy to the middle of the park, and his creative spark is not dimmed. He carries the ball forward swiftly, not only facilitating counter-attacks but also relieving pressure on our defence. His virtuoso performances in our last two matches show that he is perfectly capable of being a threat from a deeper starting point, thanks in no small part to the quality of his long range shooting.
Of course, we knew he could do all that. Most importantly, he doesn’t show any sign of shirking his responsibilities off the ball.
The introduction of Jordan Tunnicliffe to the defensive trio has, perhaps, helped to enable Parkinson to use Lee in midfield, as the centre-back’s conservative movement when we have the ball is an extra safety new in case we over-commit in midfield and leave ourselves vulnerable on the transition.
However, Lee’s diligence means we probably would be fine if we used the more attack-minded Max Cleworth at the back. Lee tracks back eagerly and helps us to regain our shape when we lose the ball. His introduction into the midfield three has not compromised the robustness we’ve shown when faced with a turnover of possession since Tunnicliffe came into the side.
Lee has started nine games in his more withdrawn position, and the statistics speak for themselves. We’ve only conceded 5 goals in those games, including a massive deflection, a harsh penalty and a free kick.
The one small concern is linked to that free kick. Lee is keen to show he’s not scared of putting in a shift for the team, and sometimes jumps into tackles a little. He usually times them well, and the crowd love such a show of ostentatious commitment. However, he runs the danger of being over-zealous and attracting a sanction from the referee. That free kick goal we conceded came when he dived in on the edge of the area against Farnborough when our defence looked in control of the situation.
I’m splitting hairs though. Lee’s reinvention as a box-to-box midfielder creates a new issue for Parkinson, as he has to fit five quality midfielders into three places.
It’s a problem Parkinson will welcome, though. His Summer rebuilding was all about increasing our strength in depth, and if you’re going to do that, you’ll be scratching your head all season as you try to decide who to leave out. But which manager wouldn’t welcome such a conundrum? It’s a recipe for success as long as you can keep the squad happy, and there’s a pleasing harmony among our playing staff as they push for the title.
Anyway, it’s a heck of a sight better than scratching your head because you lack options, isn’t it?
2 thoughts on “Parky’s Problems”
Mark you write (really interesting) articles as well? You are a content creating monster! Thank you for sharing your passion and being so welcoming to us new fans. Listening to your commentary and podcasts has become a highlight of my week!
You are so kind! Thank you very much! I love doing it all, but have to admit it is quite hard to find the time!