So, with the past weekend now – thankfully – a distant memory, we look to this weekend’s game away at the Reebok against out of sorts Bolton Wanderers. On paper, it looks fairly straightforward. It’s been a long time since you’ve been able to say that about a Bolton side, particularly away but, under Owen Coyle, Bolton’s home record has become so awful that this season they’ve managed only 1 home win, from 10; the worst in the Premier League this season.
Without wanting to make obvious jokes about our own home record, I think we need to look at the facts and see that Bolton are there to be well and truly taken. It is for that reason that I think Kenny needs to make more tough decisions and drop two players that are seemingly two of his favourites: Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson.
There is no point in mentioning Andy Carroll because the club is currently in a constant battle to prove that he wasn’t a waste of £35 million, so he will play more often than not. However, Downing and Henderson have blown hot and cold all-too-often this season and we’ve suffered for it. I wasn’t particularly keen on signing either player but I’ve supported both throughout so far but the time has come to leave them out for a few games and see how we do, particularly in the case of Downing. So far this season he has attempted dozens of crosses, taken corners, free kicks and has had close to 50 shots, yet he has yet to gain a single assist and has scored only once. Against Oldham.
Likewise, Henderson has managed only one goal and a single assist. For two supposedly attacking/creative players these stats read very poorly for them both. By contrast, Martin Skrtel is a centre back and, for all intents and purposes, a very defensive one (i.e. not like Dan Agger), yet he has scored and assisted the same amount of goals and assists as both players combined.
There is an argument to be made that both players have never played at a truly ‘big’ club and that they will need time to settle in at both the club and in the area. I am fully prepared to give them this time too and, particularly in Henderson’s case (being the younger player), it would be unfair to judge him properly until this time next season. However, that being said, we cannot let the side suffer just to will these two in to some sort of good form. It isn’t fair on the players they’re playing with, nor is it fair on the players warming the bench.
This is why, against Bolton, it is time that Maxi Rodriguez and Jonjo Shelvey need to be given a start. We brought Shelvey back from his loan spell at Blackpool and I was excited to see more of this young man. He is every bit as good as Henderson but he has a huge air of confidence about him that his counterpart lacks and I think that is crucial for a young midfielder at a big club. Just look at Steven Gerrard when he first broke in to the first team. To bring him back and not use him would really stunt his development and now would be a great time to continue where he left off at Blackpool. In fact, I think his record of 6 goals and 2 assists during his short spell at Blackpool are enough to warrant a reward of a place in the first team on merit.
As for Maxi, well, I have to say I have been truly disgusted with the way he has been treated this season. He finished last year as our second highest goal scorer, with 10. When you consider that he was only given 24 starts last season, those are the stats of a fairly decent striker, especially in such a tough league. Fast forward to this year and he’s already scored 4 overall (2 league; 2 cup) and has only started 6 games. Behind Suarez and Bellamy (who I haven’t mentioned due to his dodgy knees but plays more than both these players), he is still our 3rd highest scorer this year. But I’m not championing Maxi’s cause based just on goals scored, he is a very intelligent and quick footballer; at times he is a joy to watch and when in tandem with Bellamy and Suarez, we have a highly deadly ‘front 3’ to play to. As one of our in-form players he must be wondering why some weeks he doesn’t even make the bench and I am with him in thinking that too: why?
I can only hope that last weekend’s result was enough for Kenny to give thought to a shake-up in midfield this weekend because, as the game approaches, we are all too aware that we cannot afford too many more 0:0 results, home or away, and Kenny must be aware of this most of all.
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