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End of Term Report 2021 – Part 1 17/05/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Ben Foster

Ben Foster’s bloody great.

When he first arrived on loan in 2005, as discussed about a year ago, he was embroiled in the uncertainty of that first summer.  Lewington had been sacked, Nigel Gibbs had been disposed of, it wasn’t entirely comfortable.  Ben Foster came in from Manchester United, but had spent a loan spell the previous season being relegated from League One with Wrexham.

He wasn’t expected to start the season, not by me, we had Richard Lee after all.  But there he was. The doubts didn’t dissipate immediately as Ben’s head was sometimes too far ahead of the action, looking for the throw before he’d recovered the ball and being caught out.  But then… a few months in, he was at Alec Chamberlain’s testimonial horseracing event, one of very few players who’d braved the masses.  That’s a decent thing for a loanee for Manchester United to do.  And by then, any doubts on the pitch had been dismissed too.

Fast forward sixteen years and Ben Foster’s latest YouTube instalment has him playing a round of golf with the same Richard Lee.  That YouTube channel has added another layer to this oddest of season’s, spent as it has been largely in front of a screen.  He’s been knocked for it, particularly when the results had a wobble, but as well as being entertaining it’s been a step towards personalising both Ben and his team-mates.  In an era when knocking people online has become painfully and occasionally offensively easy, dissuasion is surely more desirable than prevention.  Look, these are real people irrespective of how good they are at football.  Meanwhile, having spent a couple of years with Heurelho Gomes as his wholehearted deputy Ben’s handled being usurped by Daniel Bachmann with similar good grace.

As well as being a good bloke he’s still a very good goalkeeper, 38 or otherwise.  Inevitably, at some point, he’ll stop being quite so good.  Given this, there’s a bit of me that’s pleased that an injury has given Dan Bachmann the chance to come in when he has such that we don’t have to watch Ben not be brilliant any more.

Next Season:  Rumour has Manchester City looking at Ben as a benchwarmer; you can understand how that would suit them.  Whether it would suit him is difficult to predict. If Ben’s still at the Vic, either as first choice or as backup and cheerleader for Dan Bachmann, we’re all the better for it.

3- Jeremy Ngakia

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Jeremy Ngakia.   Committing to join the Hornets before relegation, then finding that Kiko Femenía wasn’t, as had been suspected, heading back to Spain and he’s ended up playing less football at a lower level than he might have anticipated.

He’s looked the part, mostly.  Lots of fun, quick, aggressive, dynamic.  For a 20 year-old full-back, more than good enough.  Get-attable, maybe, defensively.  And not a left back, although judging him for being torn up by Connor Roberts at Swansea is perhaps a bit harsh.  Ngakia was one of many fringe players to have gotten injured at the wrong time… like Perica, Success, Dele-Bashiru and, late in the day, Joseph Hungbo, he picked up a knock just when he might have gotten a run – in this case, due to Kiko pulling a muscle against Millwall.  As it stands, three of his four starts under Xisco have been on the left, which is perhaps a bit unfortunate.

Next Season:  But “not quite as good as Kiko” still gives Ngakia plenty of wriggle room.   Right back, one suspects, is no longer a recruitment priority.

5- William Troost-Ekong

So much to like about William Troost-Ekong. Before he’d even arrived the backstory was hugely encouraging…  grown up around Watford, married into a family of Watford fans.  Split Nigerian/Dutch parentage has seen him represent both nations, but then when Spurs didn’t offer him a contract he followed his nose to the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Turkey.  He was only in Udine for two years, but mastered Italian to the extent that he is able to use it to communicate with partner Francisco Sierralta.

So he’s smart, he’s open-minded.  He’s grounded.  But he’s also deceptive.  6’3″, but looks smaller (because he’s often standing next to Sierralta).  27, but plays with the nous of a 33 year-old.  Sierralta, you suspect, might not be quite the phenomenon alongside a different partner… the relationship echoes those of Holdsworth and Roeder, Brown and Galli, Demerit and Cox/Dyche.  The doer given a platform by the wise head, the organiser alongside him.  Significant that three of the five defeats since the turn of the year – albeit in challenging games at Swansea, Bournemouth and Brentford – came on rare occasions when Troost-Ekong was out of the side.

Next Season: The “but” of course is that possession is a more precious commodity in the Premier League than in the Championship, and Troost-Ekong has a habit of surrendering it cheaply and even calamitously.  That’s got to be a bit of a concern.  Very much in our interests to find a way to navigate it.

6- Ben Wilmot

“I don’t know what Wilmot has to do to get a game” was simultaneously a thoroughly understandable and completely baffling soundtrack to the second half of the season.  “Not be a centre-back in a squad in which five are competing for two places” would be the unsympathetic answer of course…  with WTE and Sierralta clearly, indisputably the first picks, Craig Cathcart smart enough and experienced enough to step in whenever and wherever and the force of nature that is Christian Kabasele to accommodate too, no mystery at all in Wilmot’s omission really.  Just who would you have left out?

And yet there’s so much to like here.  In the first half of the season, Wilmot’s single-mindedness often lifted him above the drabber performances.  Often being the best player in poor performances is damning with faint praise – Worrell Sterling was one who suffered from that in years gone by.  But it’s a positive thing – and grist to the mill of the suggestion that he’s a future captain – that Wilmot was able to be assertive in such situations.  Dragging a team performance along is much harder from the middle of defence than it is from midfield or up front, but Wilmot managed it more than once.  Nor, of course, is he exclusively a centre-back, having filled in reasonably convincingly at left back and more than convincingly in the deep midfield role with which he’s long been associated.

Next Season:  And yet he’s clearly the fifth cab off the rank at centre-back as it stands.  Like Kabasele he’s got a rick in him, but he’s not got the Belgian’s dominant physique.  He’s not the quickest.  But it’s imperative that we find a way to use him and exploit that talent, else someone else will.

Comments»

1. Stuart Campbell - 17/05/2021

Fascinating to read your first edition of End of Term report as this group happen to encapsulate those players, not necessarily first picks, but whom we wish to stay, and contribute to our future in the top league. Likeable, talented and competitive, they all exhibit the kind of enthusiasm and ability we want to see across the whole squad. Good luck to all of them.
Belatedly, l’d like to add my own appreciation of your massive contribution to Orns fellowship. Your cool, measured assessments, specially in the first half of the season, helped hugely to encourage sanity when all seemed depressingly grey. We’re back… and with some style!
As an ancient fan living, these days, many miles from the Vic, I began to feel that I had probably run out of energy to keep on travelling. In no small way your writing – and, delightfully, IG’s resurgence – has helped convince me to renew my season ticket yet again.
Thanks guys… I can’t wait to see this bunch, with two or three judicious additions, attack the Prem. YouOrns!

Matt Rowson - 18/05/2021

Thank you Stuart, that’s tremendous. I shall be contacting the club forthwith to claim our commission! 😉


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