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EFL Player in Focus: Jerry Yates

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A strong start to the season for Yates

Two wins in two for Swindon, two goals in two for Jerry Yates.

It’s been the perfect start for both the Robins and their main striker who, even at this early stage, looks set for potentially the best season of his career.

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) looks at why his decision to go out on a season-long loan to Swindon could be pivotal in his career.

Tough start

Yates’ start to life in the senior game was rather challenging.

After non-league loan spells with Harrogate Railway Athletic then Harrogate Town, Yates’ first proper exposure to the EFL (baring a five-minute cameo in 2014-15), was being part of a very poor Rotherham United side in 2016-17.

The Millers had widespread cultural problems, they won just five Championship games all season, they finished 28 points adrift of safety and conceded more goals than any post-war side in the second-tier – it was so bad, that on the last day draw with Derby, the final whistle was ironically cheered!

That is not the right kind of environment to nurture a then-teenager, help him develop confidence and find himself at professional level.

Yates’ 2017-18 campaign was mixed, despite him being part of a promotion-winning Rotherham side; he featured 17 times in the league but not once completed 90 minutes.

Although the 5’9” forward was clearly a positive character and a willing runner, he was perceived as not having the ability to lead the line in Paul Warne’s direct system – understandable given the form of Kieffer Moore then Michael Smith – and he perhaps did not have quite enough quality to displace David Ball as the number 10.

Yates though began to show his ability the following season at Carlisle, scoring five goals in a four-game December period that saw him recalled by Rotherham but again, he struggled at Championship level.

Work on upper-body strength

A season-long loan at Swindon Town however, might just have been what the 22-year-old needed to kick his career into life.

Swindon’s media team produced a pre-season video on the team working in the gym; from that, one could see Yates’ determination to build his upper-body strength, to prove that he can lead the line.

That tunnel-vision has paid dividends in the early weeks – to understand why, let’s take a look at Yates’ only four goals for Rotherham excluding the EFL Trophy.

Before: ‘Safe’ goalscoring positions

Against Morecambe (0:47 then 1:56), Norwich (0:33) and Oldham (1:50), we can see that all his finishes were from relatively ‘safe’ positions.

Yates did not engage with the initial ball into the box but rather hoped that defenders might clear badly or miss an interception, or that another teammate might do the dirty work to create space for him to get his shot away.

That worked on the above occasions, yet it seems plausible that a lot of times the scenario he hoped for did not pan out – or perhaps he did not quite display the quality to threaten too far away from the goalmouth – which might help explain why he has only scored four goals for the Millers.

After: ‘Dangerous’ goalscoring positions

For Swindon this season though, Yates looks more powerful, more aggressive, more rough-and-ready, as we saw in the 2-0 opening day win at Scunthorpe.

He sprinted to get on the end of Lloyd Isgrove’s lay-off and score his first goal of the season (0:32) – and even when he did not touch the ball for the second goal (1:14), he still went from tracking back to bursting forward, detracting a centre-back and breaking into the opposing box all within 14 seconds.

Then, for his goal against Carlisle on week two (0:26), watch his determination to be the first person breaking into the box.

If we pause the picture at (0:37), we can see that Yates has got to the near-post – the danger area – risking opposing challenges to prod home in a goal-line scramble.

It is very tempting to suggest that, at that point, a previous version of Yates might have been lurking somewhere just behind Christie Elliott (Carlisle’s number two) – hoping for a bit of luck – now he’s making his own luck and should improve his productivity as a result.

Complete number nine?

There has clearly been a mentality shift with Yates that manager Richie Wellens, a driven character himself, must have played a part in.

Yates has of course always been a team player – he’s always put the effort in.

Now though, he appears to be channelling that effort with power, aggression and ruthlessness – these new-found qualities are turning him into potentially the complete number nine.