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EFL Player in Focus: Harry Pickering

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After Harry Pickering’s impressive strike in Crewe Alexandra’s 4-1 win over Salford, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has made him our EFL Player in Focus.

Mixed 2018-19

Before we look at Pickering’s form this season, it is important to assess how he fared when he first broke through.

Crewe’s creative Cestrian was established as a very attack-minded left-back, someone with the technical ability to play further forward on the flank at times.

Unfortunately for him, an injury in the second half of the season meant he was unable to develop as he might have liked, spending five weeks of Autumn then six weeks of Spring on the sidelines, effectively missing the best part of three months of action combined.

Relationship with Kirk

It is tempting to imagine a forward-thinking left-back in terms of the stereotype: an athlete who loves to attack the flank directly with direct runs.

That though would not necessarily describe Pickering, whose game is more about technique than physique.

Crucially, he possesses an innate understanding with the man he shares his flank with, Charlie Kirk.

The wide forward excels at making well-timed runs in from the channel to put the finishing touches to Crewe’s attacking moves, having scored 14 times since the start of last season.

When Kirk makes the runs, Pickering will stay out wide to detract opponents, but when Kirk is not making those runs, the left-back will make inverted forays towards the penalty area – as we saw for the goal against Salford.

Both players are very receptive to not just opportunities for themselves to show their own individual quality, but also the times where they need to be selfless and create space for others.

That team-orientated understanding is key to maintaining the equilibrium of Crewe’s attacking play.

Attacking contributions

Pickering has shown plenty of goalscoring potential this season.

He opened his account for the season on Saturday with a fabulous strike; he took a touch to steady the ball from Kirk’s lay-off, then put his laces through it yet still got accuracy, striking the perfect blend of power and placement.

Pickering has not been averse to having the odd shot this season and is an intriguing 14/1 to bag anytime in Saturday’s game at Cheltenham which, considering how often he pop’s up in what would conventionally be a forward’s position, looks good value.

Of all the left-backs in League Two, the 20-year-old has been perhaps the busiest in terms of linking play with teammates – he can play meaningful, penetrating passes the open opponents up.

There is so much technical talent about Pickering’s performances, it is hard to believe he is only.

The defensive side

Crewe’s current rate of 12 goals conceded in 10 games is not the best in the division, but it is superior to the defensive record that promoted Bury possessed in 2018-19 and that of Play-Off Finalists Newport.

Because Pickering is so good going forward, his defensive contributions can at times go under the radar.

He is one of the most accomplished tacklers in League Two, because he is tough when needed yet has collected just one yellow card and clearly knows how to stay on the right side of the referee.

The academy graduate has made several clearances and blocked numerous shots, showing a willingness to do the dirty side of the game – which Crewe will need if they are to achieve their promotion aspirations.

What next?

One hopes that Pickering will give the Railwaymen at least one full, uninterrupted season before moving on, as is inevitable due to the situation at boardroom level.

In summer 2019, the fact Crewe had not finished in the top seven was arguably in their favour as higher-placed clubs were not sharp enough to realize how good Perry Ng, Ryan Wintle, Tommy Lowery and others really are.

We can expect them to have a strong campaign this year and that means, in summer 2020, they are likely to be raided by Championship clubs – regardless of the division they find themselves in – and Pickering will be a target.

There is though, must more to come from him in a Crewe shirt.