Friday, 11 April 2008

Nicholson's Last Hurrah

Stuart Nicholson leaves us after two more games. Is he part of Brian Little's future plans?
He has nothing lined up after West Brom let him go last week, and plainly he'd like to stay. That's not awfully surprising; he doesn't look full of goals at League Two level, although to be fair to him, he has brought certain qualities to the side. He has a lot fo energy and decent pace, and works terrifically hard. No wonder Little has used him in a right-sided attacking role which hardly helped him to get into goal-scoring positions.
Surprisingly though, considering the fact that he doesn't really look too dangerous, he is equal top of our assists list this season. Admittedly, he only needed three to achieve that feat, but at least he achieved it in a couple of months; plenty of players have had all season and haven't set more goals up than him!
Little's relationship with him is interesting. he clearly feels he's a player who can do a job. Managers, of course, see much more than we do, and their impressions of a player in training can help them into the side. Of course, this can often be a positive thing as the manager sees the player's attributes more fully, and managers are employed to use their professional judgement on such matters.
On the other hand, sometimes this can be a disadvantage. Managers occasionally can't see the woods for the trees. Attracted by the ability a player shows in training, seduced by glimpses of talent or promise, bosses will sometimes select them in a forlorn hope that they can replicate it on the pitch. However, in a competitive element, some players don't shine as they do when the pressure is off.
When I was playing in the deep and distant past there was a lad in the Wrexham Schoolboys squad with me. He was massively gifted and in training regularly dazzled. He was a good mate too, so I saw plenty of what he could achieve at close quarters; we'd have the sort of kick-abouts that teenage lads have and he'd always be head and shoulders above anyone. The coach kept picking him for games, but he just didn't perform in matches though, and in the end he lost his place.
Little also, I suspect, likes the look of Nicholson because he ticks a lot of boxes. He has an excellent work ethic and pace. These attributes are what you fancy in a striker, especially when you are looking to build up a weak side and want a team that will work for you and make life difficult for the opposition all over the pitch. The problem is that these players don't always quite fulfil their potential. I've often felt Rafa Benitez has had the same thing going with Harry Kewell. In theory he fulfils a lot of the criteria Benitez was looking for as he looked to replicate the formation he succeeded with in Valencia. He had wide players like Angulo had Vicente at the Mestalla who could do good work out wide but also effectively come inside to link up to a lone striker. Kewell appears to have the qualities required to do this; good pace and heading technique, an ability to carry the ball and a goalscoring record. The problem was that he didn't really live up to those qualities on the pitch. However, Benitez persisted with him for a long time based, I feel, on his theoretical qualities.
Perhaps Little has done that with Nicholson, I don't know. I just hope that, if Nicholson does sign, he will get a chance to play in the middle and get some goals. Maybe, like the likes of Stuart Fleetwood or, whisper it, Rob Duffy, he'll find defences in the Conference more likely to yield when tested.

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