During my previous article discussing Sam’s inability to revert to a plan B, I made the statement that we needed to look at the players we had available and work out the best way to utilise the players – and with the likes of Cole and Downing available again for the Hull game, it’s a sentiment I strongly believe in. Yet, sentiment may well be the very reason why so many of us are failing to ask the killer question. Does Kevin Nolan warrant a place in our team?
At first glance, you may think I’ve lost it. Dropping last season’s top scorer, when we are in desperate need of goals? And you’re right – statistically we are a much better team when Nolan plays, but statistics only tell you so much. I’d like to stress here and now, that I am a huge fan of Nolan’s. In my mind, he is the “in your face” style captain we’ve been lacking ever since the days of Sir Julian of Dicks. And his goal record speaks for itself, with a Martin Peters esq ability to find himself in the right place at the right time anytime there is a loose ball in the box. However he is at his best, as are most in our set up, when playing off of a target man – Carlton Cole throughout the Championship, Andy Carroll last year. Yet at the moment, the big target man is the very thing we are deprived of, for while the 6ft2 Petric is no dwarf, his game is not about his physical attributes, and all any of our other forwards can currently offer of any value is their pace.
So what does Nolan offer the team, given our current plight? Does he offer us pace? Does he offer us slick passing? Is he likely to create an opportunity for a team mate out of nothing? Sadly, no. Not on this season’s form anyway! Whilst the Everton performance was a great effort by all involved – and a vast improvement on the Southampton and Stoke debacles – is he currently too much of a passenger? I’ve yet to see him really do much….the goal against Cardiff aside. Even the penalty he won against Everton was down largely to an impressive work rate by Petric (Maiga, take note!)
Simply put, Nolan needs a big man. Give him a Carroll, or a Kevin Davies to play off, and there are few better at making those runs to latch on a knock down, and when Carroll is fit, it’s a tried and tested formula that will surely bring with it success. But Carroll isn’t fit. And as such, can we set the team up better without Nolan?
The defence picks itself at the moment – Demel is still out, and Rat looked comfortable as a replacement. Despite the recklessness of his albeit clean challenge, Noble still offers protection for the back 4, especially alongside Diame, who needs to return to the middle following his brief experiment on the right. In front of those two, I’d play Morrison. As we saw when Noble gave conceded the Red Card foul on Barkley – a midfielder who is prepared to run at a back 4 will always create opportunities. In Morrison, we have an exciting and talented youngster who seems to display no fear. We need to give him the platform to perform, and letting him lose in an attacking sense could well be the catalyst we need. With Cole and Downing coming back, competition is between the two of them for the right mid slot, with Jarvis needing to find his pre season form again on the left. Whilst critical of Maiga in the past, be it he, Petric or Vaz Te who leads the line going forward, until the return of Carroll, one thing is for certain. Allardyce’s loyalty to Nolan will need to be tested.
So what do you think? Would dropping the experience and leadership of Nolan be shooting ourselves in the foot? Or do we need to realise that the sum is greater than that of its parts? Do you think he can adapt, and offer more than just reacting to knock downs? If you were Sam, what would you do?