A Man On The Outside Looking In
March was a better month for James Wilson, a winning goal against miserable and unsupported Reading and a start against Milton Keynes Franchise FC but it’s impossible to feel like he hasn’t become a man on the outside of the squad looking in, waiting for a chance which isn’t going to come. I’m sure that both Manchester United and ourselves were expecting him to play more games, and score more goals. But it hasn’t panned out that way for a number of reasons.
Primarily, nobody in the stands has ever believed him to really be fit. From the blowing chunks incident before the New Year’s Day borefest defeat to Wolves to his mazy dribbles which leave him looking like he’s just completed a marathon – he’s never been convincing in his fitness. There’s no question about his technical class, or his turn of pace on the break. He has a very fluid style and he looks effortless as he glides around the pitch but sometimes you need more Suarez than Owen, more aggression in style than ceremony.
Our manager, Chris Hughton, doesn’t like to make too many changes to the team and he won’t tinker with the team too much so when you’re one of four strikers and you’re third choice for a start, you’re not going to get too much of a chance unless one of the other two either pick up an injury or a catastrophic loss of form. Tomer Hemed’s confidence has returned and he’s scored a few goals so his place is very secure and the other place is taken up by serial starting place stealer Sam Baldock. A striker so poor even Neil Warnock has never tried to sign him.
Finally, his runs and movement are a class above. We haven’t ever tried to play to his strengths because we’re so much more practised excusing Baldock’s weaknesses that we forget about the pace, skill and class of James Wilson. We have two quality central midfielders in Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal, one brilliant winger in Anthony Knockaert, a good but not good enough winger in Jamie Murphy and a punter extraordinaire in LuaLua (Lomana’s younger brother with half the talent) but none of them have really found the key to unlocking Wilson’s class. Kayal has shown the signs, he’s played some exquisite through balls which haven’t yielded the results we’d like.
For a team in the top 4, you might have expected us to have scored more goals and for Wilson to have scored a few more for himself but that’s not really the hallmark of a Chris Hughton team – other than the Newcastle team which steamrollered the Championship with Andy Carroll bullying defences all over the place and Steve Harper doing his best to not keep clean sheets. Norwich fans might have a thought or two about how attacking Chris Hughton is, and he’s not really renowned for getting the best out of strikers (once upon a time, Ricky van Wolfswinkel was a feared International striker), but this loan spell isn’t for Brighton and Hove Albion.
This loan spell has always been for the benefit of Manchester United and James Wilson, as a Brighton fan I was hoping we would get more out of it than we have done but putting aside the hopes of a Brighton fan, if you’re a Manchester United fan then you should look past the disappointment of such a highly rated forward not being in the first team at a lower level and not scoring the goals he was expected to. Instead, look at a talented young forward learning what’s it like being the man on the outside looking in. What it’s like not playing games, sitting on the sidelines and watching players with no shred of his talent (I’m looking at you again, Baldock) playing games ahead of him. In his next loan spell, probably also in the Championship, he’ll be older and wiser and hopefully fitter, he’ll make more of an impact and score more goals before returning to Manchester United having had enough of playing elsewhere and ready to be back at the top level.