Player Watch: Gavin Whyte

Gavin Whyte

Glentoran v Crusaders 2nd October 2017.

Today’s Player Watch deals with a player who earned rave reviews a couple of seasons back. My understanding of Gavin Whyte was that he was an exciting and speedy winger who was integral to Crusaders’ game plan and I looked forward to what he would produce.

Crusaders set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and with Whyte playing on the right of the attacking three. Glentoran had three defensive midfielders playing as well so I looked forward to the duel with interest, especially since mentally I had him down as an out and out winger. This formation would ask more of him as the support to Jordan Owens.

It is fair to say that he was very heavily involved in all the good things that Crusaders produced in this match. As the game took its shape he dominated not so much the space as the right-hand block from midline to the touchline and with his speed, movement and technical ability caused havoc with the Glentoran defensive plan. His main way of doing this was darting in and out of the defensive arcs surrounding Kane, Kelly and Redman. This resulted in pulling that triangular shield around the place allowing Paul Heatley to be effective further to the left of the pitch.

Crusaders can play in several ways. They can play it long to Owens and are a well – equipped team physically to play the battle that follows or alternately, as was the case in this match do the fast passing, movement, and space game that was to earn them a 3-0 win. The fact that they scored three headers suggests the former type of game but it was anything but.

Whyte really is a delight to watch and had much more to his game than I thought. He has effective speed as against simple speed if I can put it like that. There may be faster in the league, but I doubt few can harness his product as evenly between feet and mental immediacy as well as him. Whilst it could be argued that left back Ross Redman was his immediate opponent, Whyte caused chaos right through the Glentoran midfield defensive shield by essentially giving all of those involved a concentration exercise they would not forget.

There were a few times that he took Redman on and was successful but Whyte is able to turn very sharply back on his left to move infield. This at times suggested to Glentoran that the initial threat had negated but it actually caused more of a problem as his acceleration into space was pulling players out of position. This also enabled Billy Joe Burns to move forward as well into the space vacated to put in quality crosses for Owens.

There were several times this turn back opened up a whole new vista of play. Most wide men who turn back will do so when nothing else is on and the puff and tempo goes out of a move. This rarely happened with Whyte, though I should probably give credit here to his teammates’ support especially along his collegial firing line of Heatley and Michael Carville.

He was involved in so many things that we won’t go through them all here. He reminds me of Jamie Ward in the NI international side, both positionally and style. He can make possibles probables with those machine gun bursts of intensity. What were those probables? Maximising the talents both he and Paul Heatley possess, they are expected to get on the end of Owens’ knockdowns. This is probably not something the Glentoran defence hadn’t considered, but more often than not they were first to them before the Glentoran defence and he got several shots away. The biggest ‘Wow’ moment of the match apart from the goals was a scintillating run through the Glentoran tumbleweed to unleash a rocket of a left foot from outside the area to shudder the crossbar.

All this was punctuated by other good things – an excellent low ball across the six yard box and also chasing back to halt John McGuigan on a rare East Belfast raid. He had a quieter second half but most of his and his team’s work was done. Indeed it took until the fifty-fifth minute before he was caught in possession and he really only once gave the ball away. His part in Crusaders third goal was subtle but important as he allowed the ball to carry on out wide by opening his body up which allowed the momentum of the move to continue. This allowed a good angle for the cross to come in to Owens for his header.

He left the pitch to rapturous applause on seventy – five minutes and had done much to ensure a comfortable Crusaders victory. He, Heatley and Owens had me thinking that this display reminded me of Chelsea a few seasons ago with Costa (Owens), Hazard (Heatley) and Whyte (Willian) duplicating albeit in a part-time way. As I said before, the abilities that took him to Everton on trial a few seasons back are very much apparent in this league, and with this display of speed and maturity, local fans can enjoy his range yet.