This is not a decision that a manager would ideally like to have. In fact, it’s a decision which potentially could make or break our hopes of playing in League One next year. So, who exactly do we play in place of David Perkins?
Without wanting to put too much emphasis on the loss of David Perkins, he is undoubtedly a massive player for us, and unfortunately we do not have a ready-made replacement as in Stanton’s, Rundle’s or Dagnall’s case if they were to be injured or suspended. Keith Hill has options however, each one offering something different, and which ever choice he makes will no doubt have good and bad points. It could be a managerial masterstroke if we win, a naive mistake if we lose.
The obvious option to replace Perkins would be our only other senior midfielder, John Doolan. Last season, or even earlier this season, it would have been an easy choice to make; Perkins out, Doolan in. But recently Doolan has looked increasingly off-the-pace, appearing tired and unfit. He never was a fast player, relying on wit and skill to beat opponents to make the pass – but he is on his last legs as a professional player and if anything looks a liability. Against Shrewsbury, Doolan never got into the game, against a poor side that had nothing to play for. How he would cope against a strong Stockport side I have no idea.
He is (or was, depending on how you look at it) a quality passer of the ball, and has the vision to release Dagnall and le Fondre at the right time. Whether he can hold onto the ball long enough to do this is anyone’s guess.
Of course, Doolan would not be able to last the full match, probably forty-five minutes being his upper threshold. Another possibility would be to bring Doolan on at half-time and allow him to play against some slightly weaker legs, thus negating his poor fitness. Decisions, decisions.
Another option that has been flouted is to play a winger in midfield, probably Ben Muirhead. None of our wingers have experience playing in the centre of the park however, and it would be a case of hoping for the best if any were to play there. Personally I think Kallum Higginbotham would be our best choice to play central midfield – I think he is better at tough challenges than Rundle and Muirhead, can win aerial challenges fairly regularly, and has a decent pass. But, he has never played as a central midfielder, especially not in such an important match, and he sometimes can show his age on the field by trying too hard to find the killer ball, or by taking people on when he shouldn’t. I think both Rundle and Muirhead in my eyes are too easily pushed off the ball to play there, but there’s not much difference between them in all actuality. Do any of our wingers have the maturity to play centre-mid? Wingers are often unpredictable; that being an advantage on the flank. But would it be any good in the centre?
Another possibility that has been brought up amongst Dale fans is the option of bringing in a defender, most likely D’Laryea or Holness, to play as a defensive holding midfielder, allowing Gary Jones to bomb forward with regularity. While this would free up Jonah from most of his defensive duties, do either of the two players I’ve mentioned have the ability to do this kind of work? I think D’Laryea is the most natural choice, given that he is a right-back who can pass the ball. Anyone who saw his display against Morecambe when he came on for Holness would probably agree that he has the better passing ability, and is more comfortable on the ball. Conversely, D’Laryea was poor at centre-back against Darlington, frequently giving possession away and had to be substituted after 50 or so minutes. Holness in my eyes is not a right-back, but a centre-back – so does he have the nous to play in the Makelele role? I really wouldn’t like to say.
Other than these options, our only choices seem to be youth player Kyle Buckley, who has never played for the first-team before, or to bring a full-back into central midfield (Kennedy or Ramsden) and replace them with Holness or D’Laryea. Both viable options, but both with massive risk too.
I’m sure Keith Hill will know which is the best option however, given that he sees them in training every day. Maybe Doolan’s fitness is better than we think? Maybe Hill has been training a winger to play in the centre just in case of situations like this? Maybe D’Laryea is capable of playing anywhere asked of him? All I know is that the fans have full faith in Hill, and will back him and the team whatever option he chooses.
It’s your choice Keith, do us proud.