Glentoran v Dungannon Swifts, 19th August 2017
John McGuigan’s triumphant face on the front of the matchday programme complemented my decision to focus on him for ‘Player Watch’. Like our first subject Ryan Mayse he is another returnee to his employer, having made sixty –two appearances for Glentoran before his move to Warrenpoint Town where he finished as the Championship’s top goalscorer last season with nineteen goals.
Since those last appearances in Glentoran colours he is a much stronger and fitter looking athlete and plays a very definitive position between his midfield and centre- forward Curtis Allen. To my eye he is not an inside – right nor a ‘Number Ten’ even though he sports that number on his back. This exercise today proved to be an interesting mission as the footballing wellbeing of Glentoran throughout the match was inexplicably linked to his own contribution. Let’s look at this in greater detail.
Not every team plays with this 4-4-1-1 type formation so one assumes that you have the player to do it. Not only is John McGuigan the player to do it but he is such a creative hub that a team could be built around him if he can produce consistently. He offers himself as receiver, creator and finisher. Longer balls forward tended to gravitate towards him as he has the physical strength to take, control and hold off a defender. In many teams this would be the centre- forward but Allen is more a man to run into channels and McGuigan was always looking to release him into shooting positions. An excellent forward pass on the right edge of the area from McGuigan was typical of their link ups which enabled Allen to get his shot away.
As mentioned McGuigan was more a focal point for his team rather than Allen but his activity extended into other areas. A natural receiver for throw ins McGuigan has an excellent sense of angle and body shape. The positions he takes up encourage those on his wavelength to go forth and multiply. A perfect example was standing off a colleague ready to move off a chest pass to get in a shot which the keeper just about held. It’s simple stuff but his constant awareness of doing this economically at speed was opening up the opposition. Receiving from his defence, his rapid releases into space or to an onrushing colleague again were pulling Carrick’s players around the grid to the benefit of his team. Any time Allen pulled left he was always in the box awaiting matters arising.
He was linking particularly well with central midfielder McMullan and left back Redman. This attacking support enabled McGuigan’s clever movement to operate in the space between Carrick’s central defenders and midfield. It was little surprise that he was involved in Glentoran’s best two moves, not only of the half but of the game. Intelligent running on a break enabled him to run onto the byeline causing a defender to sell himself on a sharp pullback. McNicholl should have scored with the ball provided to him. He was involved twice in the build up to Glentoran’s goal. First of all he was in a position to provide a forward option for Redman to build a move. From this he was able to find space well advanced on the left to again receive, hold and draw in defenders to service the fast advancing Redman to move into the cleverly constructed space to shoot past goalkeeper Doherty
Advanced attacking midfielder that he is he was still found in defensive mode behind his half way line sweeping up in a pass back to his goalkeeper. Another time he moved back to screen off his marker Gavin Taggart to reduce a possible threat. His speed of thought, movement, physical and technical ability was Glentoran’s most potent weapon of this half but this was not to be the case after the break.
This was a completely different half where Glentoran lost their way. Within a minute of kick off Carrick equalised but it was much more than this that caused this turn of events. As you would understand from the first half, if McGuigan’s threat was reduced, so was Glentoran’s. For me, this was fairly well split between Carrick learning from the first half and Glentoran’s reduced quality and effectiveness with the forward ball. Carrick had the best of the opening twenty minutes of the second half and Glentoran never recovered. Their midfield pushed forward a bit more on Glentoran’s back six who were then reduced to sideways passes or shunting slow, lofted passes down the centre or left hand channel. Easy to defend against .
All this brought Glentoran and McGuigan’s play into focus. The fast moving ground level supported ball play of the first half vanished and it soon became clear a Plan B was needed. If fifty percent of your attacking force are wingers and they are getting isolated and not beating their man it certainly reduces the threat of the other fifty percent- namely Allen and McGuigan. Carrick’s midfield felt able to leave McGuigan to the centre backs as their only task was to continually head aimless balls away. The wingers were substituted, and James Knowles came on in midfield to try and supply better central ball and another forward was added as McGuigan was moved to right midfield. Glentoran had picked up a few bookings by now and McGuigan himself showed how frustrated he had become in a handbags type flare up with Andrew Mooney though no cards were shown.
His nullification was very clear and some credit should go to Carrick here who worked out how to reduce quality ball of their opponents. Glentoran’s creative juices were rapidly depleted and a poor cross with his left foot showed how grim things had become for McGuigan.
Manager Haveron needs to have other ways of asking questions of a team and will have to consider whether he can have two wingers and two defensive midfielders. If he is to reinvigorate Glentoran he needs to ensure he is maximising the talents of McGuigan who needs support and movement around him.
McGuigan has the mental, physical and technical tools to create and finish for his team. The team will do better ensuring he receives good ball. For a lot of this half he spent too much time using all his skills to deal with a variety of poor passes to him. To his credit he by and large managed to deal with most of them productively. He was Glentoran’s best player on the day and his second half efficiency reduction is something that is a formational/tactical question, rather than a player issue as he is particularly suitable for his position. That said, it doesn’t matter what tactics you use if passes are poor, laboured and inaccurate.
He is a particularly difficult player for the opposition as once he completes his business he is always on the move. He may well need another midfielder who is more comfortable on the ball and who can commit players as it was clear he was a lone creative soldier as the game wore on, especially on the right of midfield. Used in the correct fashion he can bring many players into the game and works well with Allen. To my mind he is an excellent acquisition for Glentoran and I would expect him to hit double figures for goals and assists this season.