In the absence of a target man, we have four young lads to consider for two roles. We need goals and we need an effective partnership to emerge quickly. Having one of these young lads exposed as a sole striker may not be the best tactic, as we desperately need a regular supply of goals if we are to survive.
Josh Maja emerged in pre-season as a viable alternative to the senior strikers signed in the summer, Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan. An injury meant Maja’s involvement was delayed, but he announced himself with the winner against Fulham. In that move, he showed maturity, strength and ability to suggest he could be a big player in the second half of the season.
The departure of both senior strikers has increased the pressure for him to lead the line, but for one so young it’s hardly ideal. Maja will, undoubtedly, save the club a fortune in years to come, if only we can hang on to him. A second successive relegation may bring an uncomfortable conversation, as does the player become the catalyst for an immediate return or does he see his immediate future at a higher level than League One?
The ifs and buts will have to wait, for now, as the immediate aim is to stay up and a lot of that will depend on the goals Maja is able to score between now and May.
Maja can lead the line in tandem with another, as he has shown recently with Asoro, and is more effective in a partnership than when deployed as a sole striker. Maja is a clever player and is able to play the focal role with a speedy sidekick, or drop off a main striker, as hopefully Fletcher offers us.
Ashley Fletcher has been brought in to add pace and power to the forward line. His record at Boro should not be considered too much as his chances were limited, but he was a big signing for them in the summer and one who comes with a point to prove.
Not a target man, but certainly a presence, Fletcher may be the older head within our ranks now. The creation of an effective partnership with Maja, Asoro or LuaLua will be crucial to our survival and we will look to him for goals. Grabban’s 12 goals in the first half of the season becomes the benchmark for Fletcher to chase down as we enter the final few months.
If he comes close, we may just find safety is within our reach. The question is will Fletcher be the main striker every game or will the loan system mean we have to leave him out from time to time? If he’s to build an effective partnership and score the goals we need he, like Camp, may have to take up one of the five options on a regular basis which means Coleman has decisions to make elsewhere.
Options: Young Swede Joel Asoro has taken his chance and staked a claim for regular involvement this season. He offers pace and skill that puts fear into defenders, as he showed when he came up against Hull City’s Michael Dawson last month.
Consistency, as with every youngster we’ve profiled, is key and perhaps Asoro needs careful handling. Despite starting against Ipswich, he may be adopted as an impact player from the bench or a viable alternative when we face a less mobile opposition defence.
Similarly, Kazenga LuaLua will provide similar impact in the closing stages of a game. His trickery and skill could be the key to unlocking tired defences and his ability to drift wide could create space for midfielders to support the attack. This could be a useful tactic if we start with a no.10 behind a main striker, too.
If the midfielder is asked to play more defensive, Lua Lua would be a natural option to play ahead of a creative midfielder and support the main striker. Coleman may be forced into deploying such a system against Boro, as the terms of Fletcher’s loan restrict his involvement, but equally he could choose such a system against more attacking or top-of-the-table sides in a bid to keep us more compact.
This no.10 role could, of course, fit Lynden Gooch or even Aiden McGeady. Having three players to operate in this way certainly gives Coleman options, as does having three mobile strikers in Maja, Fletcher and Asoro. Were it not for injury, Duncan Watmore would be a fourth.
Who would you play up front?
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We’ve had a look at our options over these three pieces and have assessed the value of each. Maybe the defence or even the attack is easier to predict than the midfield, but the limitations of only utilising five of our seven loan players may mean Coleman has to adapt from one game to the next.
Injuries will play their part, either in terms of player availability or the need to change systems. With youth on our side, we hope that, for the large part, stability can be achieved in terms of formation and selection, and then it’s down to the individuals to find their own consistency in terms of form.
Here’s the final team selection.