It completely depends on what formation we choose to run with.
Aji Alese has become one of our most important players, and we signed Dan Ballard for a very good reason. When they’re fit they have to be in the team, along with Danny Batth and Dennis Cirkin.
But where do they all fit?! That’s a problem I’m glad is Tony Mowbray’s, and not mine.
It’s probably going to take Ballard a little while to get up to speed given how long he’s been out, so with that in mind I’d go with Luke O’Nien.
I know that might seem strange, but I have a hunch that we’ll see more of Huggins at left back, and that Trai Hume will end up going out on loan.
We need O’Nien on the pitch and he adds so much to the side as a leader and as a defender - and we aren’t the biggest team, so having someone like him in the box defending and attacking set pieces is useful.
Andrew Smithson says…
It’s a good question, because all four lads have a decent claim.
I like all four players and would be happy to see them in the side, because they are able to contribute in both defence and attack and can fit in with the wider tactics.
Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien get a lot of stick but we need players with their level of commitment and energy.
They are senior members of the squad, and as well as having plenty of ability, they do seem to have the club at heart. They’ve both learnt the role despite it not being their natural position and they can offer a good level of physicality.
Trai Hume and Niall Huggins might not be as established, but they seem very promising and have done fantastically well to overcome some nasty injuries.
From what I can tell, they both want to improve, and a bit of youthful exuberance can be a good thing. I like the fact that we are targeting unpolished gems from less familiar leagues or Premier League prospects that were overlooked at their clubs, and Huggins and Hume should be hungry for success.
Hume caught my eye in pre-season, and Huggins was one of the big plus points during our win over Birmingham City.
To play for 90+ minutes and on the wrong side of the pitch after being out for so long was seriously impressive, so it would seem harsh if he wasn’t involved against Millwall. That said, Dennis Cirkin and Aji Alese have done well on the left so they will also feel they deserve to start.
This level of competition is encouraging, and the fact all the players mentioned can operate in either a traditional back four or as wing-backs gives us some great options.
Malc Dugdale says…
It’s time that the club started to play people in their natural positions wherever possible, in my view.
We’ve had a long period of covering defence from midfield, using the likes of Luke O’Nien and Lynden Gooch to fill certain positions. Whilst the effort put in by those lads has been appreciated, they simply have to offer more value in their natural positions, just as the defenders we are getting back can play a bigger role exactly where they belong.
There are other areas where we need cover and it could be argued that O’Nien may be an option to replace Corry Evans when he needs a rest.
Gooch will have to compete with the likes of Patrick Roberts and Amad for the right-sided wide berth, which is going to be a challenge based on recent form.
What is clear is we need more than eleven players for this long slog of a season. Much like young Niall Huggins, those not starting will need to train hard, stay fit and wait for their chance.
Yes, it may be tough to keep all these lads happy, but I’m just pleased that we’re getting close to some genuine depth, which we have missed for some time.