The injury curse has struck again! Just as a clutch of players make their return from spells on the sidelines, it emerged over the weekend that Rovers striker Andy Williams, the club’s top scorer so far this season with 7 goals, will be out for around 8 weeks with an ankle injury suffered in the last moments of the 3-2 win over Barnet two weekends back. Williams netted the last-gasp winner in that game, underlining his importance to the team’s early season success, and will be a big miss over the coming weeks.
The question now is who will step into his considerable shoes? Today ITEN assesses the options.
Mandeville in the Hot Seat
The starting berth currently belongs to Liam Mandeville, but the youngster didn’t exactly set the world alight in Williams’ place against Colchester. We shouldn’t be too harsh on him though, as the entire team was off-colour in this one and only one or two players really came out of the game with any glowing praise. Add to this the fact that Mandeville did impress the previous week playing alongside Williams, in place of the suspended John Marquis, and the decision to keep him in the side, if that is the route the manager now opts for, should be seen as a wise one.
The big up side to this choice is that Mandeville provides the most natural fit for the current system. Fergie prefers to play two up front, rather than the more popular lone striker set-up, and avoiding having to change this is potentially crucial to our hopes of maintaining the current upward trajectory. As discussed last week on this website, Mandeville’s strengths in off-the-ball movement and passing vision suit being a foil for the more physical Marquis, and this attacking formation, be it with a Diamond or 3-5-2 behind, gets the best out of James Coppinger in the hole behind the front men too.
No Need for Reinforcements
The emergency loan window is no more, meaning the tendency for managers in the EFL to look for the quick fix in the form of an out-of-favour temporary option is no longer a viable option, but this hasn’t stopped some fans from suggesting the need to dip into the Free Agent pool. Fergie himself has raised this as a potential solution, but I do not believe this is the way forward. Despite the current financial climate in football, there is still some weight to the argument that a player finding himself without a club by this stage in the season probably has a good reason for not having done so.
A quick glance over the available strikers does not make for encouraging reading, with names such as Leroy Lita and Calvin Zola only stand out due to surprise that they haven’t retired yet, whilst others such as former Rovers loanee Kiko Macheda or controversial veteran El-Hadji Diouf don’t seem realistic targets. Indeed it is more out of amusement that names such as Emile Sinclair jump out, and I would hope the manager recognises that these names are by and large not going to improve the squad.
Waiting in the Wings
Couple this dearth of quality with the fact that Rovers now implement a strong youth policy and suddenly Williams’ injury presents itself as a positive: an opportunity for young blood to step up. It may require an alteration to Fergie’s preferred system, but if Mandeville fails to stake his claim in the next couple of games there are two hungry young players waiting for the chance.
Alfie Beestin has earned plenty of praise for his encouraging start to life in the professional ranks, signed in the summer from Tadcaster Albion after a strong trial period at the club. Beestin has excellent physical presence for his age, and has already demonstrated his ability by scoring against Mansfield in the ill-fated EFL Trophy, following that up with a sumptuous assist for Mandeville in the following tie against Derby U23s.
Another to stand out in that one was midfielder Will Longbottom, who netted a superb diving header late in the game, demonstrating incredible bravery to beat several Derby defenders and find the corner of the net. Both Beestin and Longbottom have already made their league debuts for Rovers too, so have had a taste, albeit a fleeting one, of “proper football” and in those showings, both players demonstrated that they would not shrink in the sun if thrown out into the open.
Neither are out-and-out strikers, so a switch to one up front may have to be made if either are brought in, but this is workable: Beestin is adept playing in the #10 role behind the striker, and Longbottom could be deployed across a three-man attacking midfield, or we could see James Coppinger pushed up front alongside Marquis to accommodate. Copps is thriving in his current role, but clearly has the ability to be a threat if asked to do a job on the front line and this could be a consideration for Fergie.