Goalkeeper: J McLaughlin
Only potential injury stands in the way of Jon McLaughlin losing his spot in the team.
That’s not because his deputy, Lee Burge, isn’t an able performer, but because he’s clearly earned a lot of faith from the manager and has kept an enormous amount of clean sheets since the turn of the year.
Whilst we’ve conceded in both of our last two games, you could hardly lay the blame at the feet of McLaughlin, who has been largely dependable for some time.
Last time out, the former Hearts ‘keeper was barely tested. He saved three of the four shots on target Coventry put his way, and he collected the one cross he attempted to catch. Matt Godden is a striker who thrives on balls coming in to his feet and, as such, McLaughlin wasn’t asked to deal with the aerial threat of our opponents as much as he perhaps was when Fleetwood came to town last week.
What is perhaps most interesting is the amount of long passes he belted in the direction of Luke O’Nien - ten, which was more than any other player (Wyke, our striker, was 2nd with 7). The short passing game we’ve often attempted to adopt at home was shelved in favour of going long, and that all starts with our goalkeeper.
Back Three: Willis, Ozturk, Flanagan
I wrote in this piece on Monday about the fact our defensive standards have slipped in recent games, and that must be addressed immediately, starting today.
Whilst previously I’ve shown immense faith in the back three of Jordan Willis, Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan, none of them played well in the games against Fleetwood and Coventry last week. It goes without saying that improvement is needed.
They cannot allow themselves to fall asleep early in games. Conceding early goals, particularly against decent sides, is criminal - it gives them something to cling on to, and leaves the team facing an uphill battle as the rest of the game plays out.
I’m actually keen for Tommy Smith to get a chance sooner rather than later, but I reckon Alim Ozturk has just enough change left in the bank to have earned himself another chance. Ozturk was important as we gained impressive form after the turn of the year, but any failure to improve will surely see him lose his spot in the side.
Midfield: O’Nien, Dobson, Power, Hume
Most fans seem to want to see what Declan John has to offer, but I’m not confident that Phil Parkinson is ready quite yet to drop Denver Hume.
That said, Hume’s form has not been great, and he has to improve. His job is to provide us with creativity down the left-hand side, yet his production rate has slowed considerably, and he’s registered only two assists in the last 23 games.
Varying his attacks might see him improve his success rate - right now it feels as though his one-footedness is what is holding him back from achieving more.
I’m also keen to see Josh Scowen play over a consistent spell of games, yet I can’t see where he fits into the side. George Dobson is one yellow card away from a ban, and it doesn’t feel as though he’ll be taken out of the team until that happens.
Max Power, on the other hand, is our captain. Luke O’Nien is arguably our most important player - give this analysis piece which studies Luke’s relationship with Chris Maguire a read if you haven’t already. When they’re fit, they both play.
Attack: Maguire, Lafferty, Gooch
I did hope that some kind soul might have placed a printed copy of this piece by Roker Report’s Steve Tiltman on the desk of Phil Parkinson on Tuesday morning. The manager’s continued faith in Charlie Wyke is actually hampering the team considerably, and the sooner we see a change up top, the sooner we’ll see an improvement in the success rate of chances created.
Chris Maguire, like Power and O’Nien, is one of the first names on the teamsheet when he’s fit. He’s our most creative player and if we’re going to win, you can bet he’ll be involved in our best attacking play.
Despite having (statistically) his worst game of the season on Sunday, I don’t expect we’ll see Lynden Gooch come out of the team today. He really needs a good performance to remind everyone what he’s capable of.