After another round of EFL fixtures, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his Team of the Week.
In the embryonic stages of Nottingham Forest’s campaign, the goalkeeping position was a problematic area.
Arijanet Muric, on loan from Manchester City, made mistakes in the 2-1 opening day defeat to West Brom; he then had one or two shaky moments in the 1-1 draw at Leeds the following week and struggled to gain any confidence from there.
Brice Samba came into the team for the 2-1 late-August victory at Fulham and has looked a lot more reliable.
In Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Barnsley, he made a smart stop from Luke Thomas in the first half, then denied a tight-angled effort from Dani Pinillos at his near-post among three other saves.
Samba’s heroics meant that Ben Watson’s strike, the Reds’ only effort on target, was enough for all three points.
West Brom’s 4-2 win over Huddersfield showed the value of right-back Darnell Furlong.
It’s rare that a player can glide past an opponent with the ease that Furlong can, yet simultaneously possess the aerial ability that Furlong has, so we are looking at the complete athlete.
The QPR recruit has often been Albion’s main outlet, especially when the attacking quartet in Slaven Bilic’s 4-2-3-1 are denied space - he can cause real problems down the right flank.
Plus, Furlong’s excellent spring can sometimes catch opponents by surprise.
Ordinarily, the protocol is to man-mark the big centre-forward from crosses – then perhaps the two centre-backs from set-pieces – but teams are perhaps not used to making plans for dealing with a right-back in aerial terms, thus making Furlong a very useful weapon.
Wigan have struggled for goals from open play this season, but they carry a threat from Charlie Mulgrew’s free-kicks and the physical presence that his centre-back partner, Chey Dunkley, can provide.
Ironically, Dunkley is not always that great at defending crosses into his own penalty area, because he is sometimes slightly erratic and impulsive, yet those very characteristics seem to make him hard to predict in the opposition’s 18-yard box.
The former Oxford defender produced perhaps his best performance at Championship level on Saturday, bagging a brace in Wigan’s 2-0 victory over Charlton.
Rob Kiernan was unable to match Dunkley’s achievement in terms of getting on the scoresheet, but his display was equally important in a crucial 1-0 victory at MK Dons for Southend United.
After the 4-3 defeat at Shrewsbury in midweek, caretaker manager Gary Waddock highlighted his disappointment at the team’s lack of organisation, questioning at times their commitment – he implied that the work in the following days would be about getting back to basics.
The players have clearly taken on those instructions very quickly.
One would be hard-pushed to find a better-attacking left-back below the Championship, over the last five years, than Danny Andrew.
He won a Player of the Year award at Grimsby in 2016-17, then played a key part in Doncaster’s Play-Off campaign last season.
Andrew seems to be having a very impressive impact once again at Fleetwood.
Although he struggled defensively early on in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Rochdale, he scored the equalizer, tested Robert Sanchez’s palms on another occasion and was a key part of his side’s forward play.
Tommy Lowery is having a wonderful 2019 at Crewe Alexandra.
He started the calendar year predominantly as an impact substitute, brought on late in games to inject some fresh energy.
As 2019 has gone on, however, manager David Artell has become increasingly aware of Lowery’s value from the start of games.
When Paul Green, Ryan Wintle and James Jones play together in the same midfield, the Railwaymen can be short of thrust from deep, but Lowery loves to make those penetrating, third man runs to overload attacking situations which can really help unlock teams.
For his first goal in an outstanding second-half performance in Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of Salford, the 21-year-old produced a delightful flick over the top of a defender, then delicately chipped the goalkeeper as though it were the easiest thing in the world, completing his brace with a simple finish late on.
Stewart was also in among the goalscoring act; the tenacious midfielder bagged the opener with an impressive in Hull’s 3-0 victory at Luton and arguably completed a brace, depending on who got the last touch for the third goal.
Kieran Sadlier was a star performer for Doncaster Rovers in the recent 2-0 victory over Peterborough, maintaining their promotion credentials.
Sadlier put in the right-wing cross for the evergreen James Coppinger to score an unusual headed goal, before showing the pace to get away from opposing defenders to slot home a second on the counter-attack.
It was a weekend to celebrate for Bradley Dack, who had made 100 appearances for Blackburn Rovers; he relished the occasion, bagging a simple finish in a 2-1 victory at Reading.
Although the 25-year-old is a creative player, whenever the ball gets into advanced areas his mind becomes that of a second striker, because he is then looking to get to the back-post and find himself a tap-in, as we saw for Rovers’ second goal.
Often, that kind of movement can drag defenders back and create space for a teammate to get a shot away, with Adam Armstrong’s first-half strike being an example.
After bagging a treble in Oxford United’s 6-0 victory at Lincoln, Tariqe Fosu has now scored two hat-tricks in his career - interestingly, both have come under Karl Robinson.
The first came in a 3-1 win at Fleetwood in September 2017 while at Charlton, the second on Saturday, including a magical strike from distance.
More than goals, Fosu provides direct running ability which is key to winning fouls set pieces and getting his team up the pitch – the 23-year-old has been upended 31 times in League One this season, making him the third most-fouled player in the division.
Oldham chairman Abdallah Lemsagam has come under criticism for his international recruitment policy, but it must be recognized that it has allowed the club to bring in the likes of ball-winner Christopher Missilou and technician Mohammed Maouche.
Of course, some of the players Lemsagam has added from abroad have not been too successful, but Désiré Segbé Azankpo looks more of a hit than a miss.
Boundary Park’s bright Beninese battler is a valuable outlet, because he is always on the move and loves to run in behind, enjoying his best performance of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 triumph over Morecambe.
Managing Colchester has it’s plusses and minuses.
On the one hand, managers tend to get a lot of support from a very patient chairman in Robbie Cowling, who has given the likes of Joe Dunne, Tony Humes, Kevin Keen and now arguably McGreal fair amounts of time to prove their worth.
On the other hand, though, fans who have seen their club play above the fourth tier for much of this century feel this year is the one where they have to mount a serious promotion challenge.
Cowling, who sees the financial aspects in more direct terms, is meanwhile very conscious of the importance of sustainability – a large proportion of the budget is often spent on players for the Under-23s side, who might not be good enough for the first team short-term.
McGreal must therefore stay within budget whilst also delivering performances to assure fans that the team can be competitive, which is not always the easiest balance to strike.
The U’s though are in good form: back-to-back wins including a striking 3-0 triumph at Swindon on Tuesday - and they welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Essex in the midweek EFL Cup clash.