Cheltenham, Rochdale and Thompson
Looking back on Tuesday’s draw with Cheltenham, it doesn’t seem as bad as it did that night, but I guess Cheltenham’s fans feelings will be slightly hollower. For them, it was like a victory, except that it was the difference between no points and 1 point. For us, it was the difference between 3 points and 1 point, but in a game we weren’t expected to get much from anyway.
At the time, it felt frustrating, as losing a win always does, especially in the circumstances. Losing two players to injury in a match, one of which turned the game, is an annoyance. But it could have been worse. A few years ago, we would have lost 3-2. These days, we’re more difficult to beat, and we have to take that as a positive.
Also on the positive front was the performance of Aaron Downes. Injury record aside, there’s no doubting his abilities. I think we have a better centre-back pairing now than we did last season. It’s just a case of keeping him and Brian Saah fit. If we can do that, I’m confident we will concede few goals this season, and they may bag a couple of goals between them too.
The down side is the injuries, particularly in attack – with Stevens out already, we’ve now lost a second winger in Macklin. It’s now getting slightly nervy, but if I were Martin Ling, I would put Niall Thompson in the side. I know he’s threatening to do it, but I’m not sure he will. I think he should – too many youth players have come through the ranks in the last couple of years and never been given a chance. This year Mackenzie and Thompson have been regulars on the bench, the expansion to 7 subs helping. But as far as I’m concerned, if they’re ready for the bench, why not give them a go? Thompson in particular strikes me as a promising talent, so why not?
Rochdale may be difficult to beat – they’re a John Coleman side, so that’s obvious, even though they have downward momentum at the moment. But the problem as far as Thompson’s concerned is you could say this about the vast majority of sides in League Two – if Ling isn’t willing to start him now, when is he going to be willing to start him?
I won’t criticise Ling if he doesn’t pick him – he knows better than I do (although I really don’t want to see Cruise back in from the start). I’ve only seen a couple of Niall’s appearances – I watched the FA Youth Cup match against Manchester United last season, where he was by far and away the best Torquay player on the pitch, and briefly against Stoke, where he made a nuisance of himself against some Premier League players. He’s clearly very talented. But so is Halpin, and he has disappeared off the radar of late (I know he’s injured now but he was nowhere last year too). I don’t want to see Thompson become another lost talent.
Plenty of clubs around us have gambled on young players of late. Some have made money out of it. Powell has made Crewe a heck of a lot of money. Jordan Ibe earned a fair bit for Wycombe. If we’re not going to bring players in as cover, we need to be a bit more aggressive with young players. They need to be played. Now is an ideal opportunity.