Benson’s search for a striking partner

Swindon Town are top of League Two and normally that comes down to a solid frontline banging in the goals, such as our partnerships of Mooney and Parkin, Allison and Finney etc. This season, the frontline has chopped and changed but still to some success, Adam Johnson looks at the situation.

Paul Benson. 32, 6ft tall, 11st, looking for a partner to have fun and score…goals with. It’s a simple love advert at the back of The Swindon Advertiser but even after nearly four months, the search goes on.

The former Charlton striker has done nothing wrong in a Town shirt, except being unable to keep a partner. The cries from the Town End and Swindon faithful have been pointing to Alan Connell in recent weeks but, who has really been the most effective as a partnership this season?

After looking through every fixture, noting down every partnership and every goal scored by a striker in which partnership, there is one thing I can safely say. We’ve had lots of different combinations, 27 by my count – See the table below

27 different pairings in 50 games, normally with figures like that you’d be thinking about a side struggling to score goals and at the wrong end of the table. We all know this isn’t the case and actually many of the combinations have good appearance to goal ratios.

11 strikers have seen their chances come and go and it’s not that most of them have only had sub appearances. Di Canio either hasn’t known his preference of player or his preferences didn’t work out. I’d assume it was the latter…

Connell’s longest run in the team for example is four games, and he scored one goal. Murray had a run of four games starting, and scored none. Bodin started three and scored 1 which is fine but none of them when alongside Benson have shown a constant threat in front of goal.

Di Canio has tried all the combo’s, everyone has had their chance. Luckily for Town, these players have come on for one another and grabbed a goal but no one except Benson seems able to take advantage of their starting place.

If we go back to the start of the season it was a similar tale. This is where many of the different pairings were formed, when we were being too inconsistent to mount a title challenge. Oh how times have changed!

Anyway, I’d say that 22 out of the 27 duos were formed before Christmas and during that time, everything was tried. Magera was given four starts, no goals. Clarke 4 starts, no goals. De Vita 4 starts, no goals. Jake Jervis and Kerrouche were the only success stories early in the season but there is still a pattern with them.

Both had good starts, scoring goals in as many appearances but towards the end of their stay, they had a few quiet games and were dropped. Kerrouche was dropped more for his attitude but Jervis started well and ended with 4 goals in 10 starts.

All of these figures may come across as over thinking but there is one common theme in all of this before Christmas: ‘‘If you don’t take your chance, you’re not going to play.’’

Paolo has given each striker a run of a least 3 games to prove themselves, that’s 270 minutes of football. Over this period, it’s fair to say you’ll know each striker’s strengths, weaknesses and scoring potential. The problem was even if Kerrouche was good, Jervis was good, Connell was good, none of them were scoring goals regularly and could be counted upon.

This is where Paul Benson fits the bill perfectly and it’s to no surprise that this man has started every game since his two sub appearances when he first joined as he sought to gain match fitness. He can be relied upon in a game to pop up when needed with a goal. He doesn’t do it every game, but he has in the majority rather than the minority.

So, this is where we can reveal the best pairing of the season so far, wait for it Town fans before the majority jump up for joy, is Benson and Connell. That may not come as much of a surprise but they lead with 11 appearances together and eight goals.

However, it has to be stated, that whatever partnership Benson is in the stats are good. With Ronan Murray they’ve got four goals in 10 appearances and with Billy Bodin; it’s even more impressive, with six in seven appearances.

In the table we see that Jervis and Montano scored 2 goals in three games together, Jervis and Connell got three in three, and Jervis and Magera got 2 in 3 games but the common theme was Jervis, not the other partner as well, which we’ve already eluded too.

So, what is it Paolo is looking for? He has his perfect striker Benson at the moment, on the pitch, working hard, scoring goals. But look and think about the likes of Benson, Connell and Jervis, when I think of these three, I think of target men.

Benson is good in the six yard box but he is effective at holding play up, same as Connell and similar to Jervis. What is also interesting about these three is that they’re actually three of our top four strikers.

Benson is the least like a target man but he definitely isn’t the quick play off your partner striker. Swindon has struggled for that other one to really rely on for getting on the end of long balls, or to beat opposing defenders. Look at the JPT final for example.

However, it’s Connell and Benson who have brought about the most success in front of goal. Both players are good in the air and both are strong forwards who can get about.

When Connell starts alongside Benson, the latter gets a new role of being on that last shoulder, and unselfishly by Connell I feel, it brings about chances for his partner. Connell is a workhorse and I’ll always admire that in a footballer. It these types of players you want to do well. He may not have the best conversion rate in the team but he helps the team, rather than the individual.

If you read Alex Cooke’s blog last week, looking at our choice of formations, I’d agree by saying that starting with just Benson upfront could solve problems (if you can call being top of the league by four points a problem).

You wouldn’t have another striker to worry about, and with the signing of John Bostock, it could be that Paolo had taken advice from that blog – perhaps not but you never know, he could be reading… Having the Spurs loanee just behind Benson would still give him the freedom to roam the box rather than the outside of the box. Leave the connecting the play to Bostock, and allow Benson to do what he can do best, score goals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Alan Connell fan. If Paolo stuck with Connell and Benson for the rest of the season, we’d still be successful. However when we finish this season, we all know another striker will be on his way in anyway…

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Some Strikeforce Stats….

Appearances, goals and longest runs in the first team:

PLAYER APPS (SUBS) GOALS LONGEST RUN
Benson 16 (2) 9 16 (scored 7)
Connell 20 (18) 11 4 (scored 1)
Murray 6 (14) 3 4 (scored 0)
Bodin 9 (2) 3 3 (scored 1)
Jervis 12 (2) 5 10 (scored 4)
Montano 3 (1) 1 3 (scored 1)
Magera 9 (9) 1 4 (scored 0)
Kerrouche 11 (7) 7 6 (scored 3)
Clarke 4 0 4 (scored 0)
De Vita 6 (1) 1 4 (scored 0)
Storey (3) 0 3 sub apps in a row
Tehoue 1 (1) 0 1 (scored 0)

Strike partnership stats…

PARTNERSHIP

APPS      GOALS
Benson & Connell 7 (4) 8
Benson & Murray         3 (7) 4
Benson & Bodin          5 (2) 6
Benson & Tehoue 1 (1) 0
Benson & Magera (1) 1
Connell & Murray       4 (3) 3
Connell  & Tehoue (1) 0
Connell & De Vita 1 (2) 1
Connell & Bodin           (1) 0
Connell & Jervis 3 (3) 3
Connell & Kerrouche 5 (4) 4
Connell & Clarke 2 0
Connell & Magera (2) 0
Connell & Storey (1) 0
Jervis & Magera 3 (4) 2
Jervis & Kerrouche 2 (2) 1
Jervis&  Murray (3) 1
Jervis & Montano 3 2
Jervis & De Vita 1 1
Kerrouche & Clarke (2) 1
Kerrouche & Storey (2) 2
Kerrouche & Magera 4 (1) 1
Kerrouche & De Vita (1) 1
De Vita & Clarke 2 0
De Vita & Magera (1) 1
De Vita & Bodin 2 0
Magera & Murray 2 (3) 1
Magera  & Clarke (1) 0

Allow for human error…

3 comments

  • It’s a no brainer for me. Connell is the man. I still don’t think he’s been given a long enough run in the side and he has proved that he can score goals.

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  • Great article…My preferred front two would be Bodin and Benson as Bodin offers that extra bit of pace and so that we don’t play long ball football with two target men upfront. The obvious problem with this is though is that of course Bodin is now at Crewe until the end of the season, so Connell should be the regular partner for Benson until then.

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  • There is still a problem however, from my observation rather than from statistics, that in terms of overall play, Connell does not seem to last a whole game. His greatest impact seems to be when he comes on as a sub. (That excludes the home game against Torquay, which was certainly the best I have seen him play, and he could easily have been man of the match). We don’t yet know what Bostock is going to bring, nor have we seen the best of Tehoue – tho he seems to be Benson-like, if heavier! Murray seems lightweight as a striker, but does better in the attacking midfield position that you see Bostock in. Fascinating….let’s hope for the new season that the Austin/Cox style of goal grabber appears – but I hope Connell will be kept on, and personally i think Tehoue could well come up with the goods too.

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