By Mahesh Johal
With eight games remaining and seven points adrift of the play off zone, City may find themselves too far away to challenge for another appearance at Wembley. If City do not make the top seven, our lack of goals scored (post League Cup Final) will be a major reason for our failure. Defensively however, I feel we have been solid and it is my opinion that it is the strongest area of our squad.
The January signing of Michael Nelson has further improved this defensive unit. Signed from Kilmarnock for a reported £30k, Nelson was brought in to strengthen the then depleted City defence. Given an 18 month contract, his signing indicated not a short term fix, but a longer term plan by Phil Parkinson. At 32, he has added further experience and steel to the squad. When watching him on debut against Fleetwood, Nelson dealt manfully with the oversized threat of John Parkin. I think many fans at Highbury that day recognised why Parkinson was eager to capture his signature.
Strong in the air and in the tackle, Nelson has a no nonsense approach to his business. His style and consistency is what is needed to get us out of League Two.
His performance (with Andrew Davies) at AFC Wimbledon, against the experienced journey man Gary Alexander demonstrated to me at least his strengths. In the small Kingsmeadow Stadium, you could hear and see the way he communicated with his team mates – both in his back line and in front. Like Parkin, Alexander is a big boy. However, I cannot remember Nelson losing a header to either him or 6’4 Jack Pell. Whilst City ultimately lost that game, I felt the late goals masked what had been a very controlled performance by the City centre halves.
It has been said by Guy Branston and others before him that City sometimes lack ‘characters’ or voices. From what I saw and heard from Nelson that day at least, it’s hard to see the training ground or a match day being a quiet arena anymore. If anything, Nelson’s signing shows Parkinson’s desire for strong and hard characters in his team.
From Derm Tanner’s interview with Nelson in the City Gent, you get a clear feeling that Nelson is a winner. His rise form non-league, to his promotions at Hartlepool and Norwich, and his well-documented Scottish Cup victory for Kilmarnock, Nelson has experience in winning! Like Gary Jones, Rory McArdle and James Meredith, Parkinson has brought in a successful player into his squad. To repeat myself from a previous article, success breeds success. With the accumulation of players that Parkinson’s has brought in, it is surely a matter of time until City get out of this league. If not this season, promotion will surely be on the cards next year!
Regardless of what League City play in next season and assuming those out of contract are retain, we will have five extremely strong central defensive options. With Davies, McArdle, Carl McHugh, Nelson and Luke Oliver all fighting for two jerseys, City have some of the best centre backs in the league.
On the occasions that I have seen Nelson, he has largely been partnered with Davies. Together they are a physical duo that enjoy a battle. However, with McArdle now fit, McHugh an U21 International and the return of Oliver it will be interesting to see if Nelson will be seen as a starter in the future. The forgotten man of this season, it must not be ignored that City’s early season form was built around the solid defence of which Oliver was a part of. When he returns to action, it will be intriguing to see Parkinson juggles all of his players.
My underlying memory from this year will always be the feeling of exhilaration after Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh scored against Aston Villa. Maybe because of this I have a bias towards these players. I felt it was fitting that both partnered each other at Wembley, even if it was at the expense of Nelson. However, he is good enough to be a starter in the team. I for one am glad that I am not picking the team and instead am watching from the Kop. I just hope that Parkinson’s contact gets sorted out soon, so I can continue watching his team from Kop!
With signings like Nelson, I am confident that in Phil Parkinson we have the man and the players to ultimately lead us out of League Two.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus