Date: 23rd April 2018 at 10:06am
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Article written by David Bak

Saturday went exactly how most of us dreamed it, didn’t it? A battling win on home turf, with helping hands extended from Yorkshire and our Black Country neighbours only adding to the sweetness.

I could write reams and reams about the match itself, but as the title suggests, I’d like to focus on the player I think gives us the best chance of securing our status going forward; our very own Craig Gardner.

Now, this isn’t down to him being a particular favourite of mine, but as we’ve come to realise this season, our central midfield is quite limited in terms of real technicians. They have plenty of muscle, but ball retention and creativity isn’t really their forte. Mr Cotterill dealt with this by trying to bypass midfield altogether, but happily, Garry Monk comes from a different school of thought.

Although Garry has extensively utilised Jukey’s aerial ability, there’s still been an attempt to play more football in the middle of the park since his arrival. Gardner was a big part of this at the start of his tenure, but with niggling injuries limiting his play time, our football gradually became less and less free-flowing.

In spite of this, we still ground out results manfully – our grit and determination totally overriding any technical deficiencies. The team spirit and togetherness was there for all to see, but I couldn’t help thinking that the lack of comfort on the ball would eventually make it difficult for us. This came to fruition against Burton, and continued into both the Bristol City and Wolves games.

The main flicker of light in the Wolves game for me though was the reintroduction of the aforementioned Gardner. He just seemed to bring that little bit of calmness and quality we’d been missing. The ability to keep it simple and not slash the ball away under pressure is absolutely invaluable for us at this stage.

For this reason, I was slightly deflated to not see his name in the lineup on Saturday for what was probably the most crucial game of our run-in. For all their individual merits in hassling and harrying, picking any combination of N’Doye, Kieftenbeld and Davis together never seems to work. They each need a ball player alongside them, otherwise, it becomes a game of hot potato whenever the ball comes into the midfield area.

I think Monk could see what was needed against the Blades though, because almost instantly after half-time, Craig was sent out to warm up. As soon as he came on the pitch, his ability to move the ball that little bit quicker into good areas made an immediate difference. Suddenly we weren’t gifting them possession quite as easily, and it was like a pressure valve releasing for the entire team.

This will be absolutely vital if we’re to cement our position in this league for the 2018/19 season. He played a big part in irritatingly similar circumstances 12 months ago, and I think he can be equally important this time around. Of course, there are other hugely influential players, but control of the midfield makes it so much easier for those players to actually have that influence.

Having said all this, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we didn’t even need another point? A final day without the feeling of an imminent coronary wouldn’t go amiss. Realistically, Barnsley and Burton both need to win twice to catch us, which isn’t particularly likely. Add Bolton into the mix, and we really are nearly there.

We have to expect them to win their games though; for that reason we need as many points as we can muster. With a little bit of composure in midfield, I think that’ll be a hell of a lot easier to achieve.

At risk of neglecting the other players though, what a fantastic effort it’s been since the change of leadership. Every single player has had their moments, but I think Jota and Maghoma have been the real shining lights.

I am more confident than ever that we can complete the task in hand, and if we manage it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us challenging at the other end of the table this time next year.

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