Can Nicky Ajose fire Town to safety and beyond?
Steven Fyfe asks is Nicky enough to say “No way Ajose” to relegation?
There is a different feel to Swindon Town at the moment. Although Town are still down at the wrong end of the table, there is a growing optimism from the fans that we will survive relegation. For the over optimistic there are even whispers of a playoff push, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. With Swindon’s 4-0 win at Chesterfield being only a second clean sheet of the season, it’s clear Town are going to need to score goals given the lack of clean sheets, which puts pressure on the strikers. So do Town have enough fire power to stay in the division, or better yet to mount an unlikely push for the play offs?
The key figure so far this season has been Nicky Ajose. The former Town loanee rejoined on a permanent deal on a three-year contract back in early September following his release by Leeds United. Former boss Mark Cooper outlined then “He (Ajose), along with Wes Thomas, were the ones that, if there was any chance we could get them, we had to be patient. There were a lot of clubs after him and he had to get an agreement with Leeds to leave his contract. The thing with Nicky is that we know he’s not a gamble; we know him, we know how professional he is and he’s got a terrible habit of scoring goals for Swindon. It gives us more options in the final third of the pitch which is what we’ve been lacking a little.”
Several weeks and a managerial change later, it’s right to assess Ajose’s impact at the County Ground. The early signs are that Nicky can be as good as some of the most prolific strikers for Swindon in the past decade as he’s natural a finisher. While direct comparisons with Austin, Cox, Parkin etc are difficult, the crucial statistics are goals and a goals per game contribution…
What is important to point out at this stage is Ajose’s solid strike record of 10 goals from 21 appearances while on loan was while playing for a confident, winning team. His current strike rate of 0.5 goals per game is even more remarkable given the level of performances that have been churned out for the majority of the season. While three of his goals this year have been penalties, Ajose still had to score them – importantly penalties did not stop Frank Lampard being considered a great goal scoring midfielder.
After his double against Chesterfield, Ajose has hit a fine run of form with seven goals in his last eight games which has seen him nominated for the November player of the month award.
What is both a blessing and a curse is what support the former Manchester United, Peterborough and Leeds player has. On paper Town have excellent attacking options. Wes Thomas is a more than capable goal scorer and could easily provide the same service to Ajose that Nile Ranger did. John Obika, although not prolific, has a knack of scoring important goals. Behind them Robert, Ojamaa, Gladwin and possibly even Stewart offer an attacking threat.
With these players comes concern though. Ben Gladwin is starting show elements of the class we know he has, but remains a short term loan. Fabien Robert looks like he could be a really good player. Ojamaa is more miss than hit or miss at the moment and Obika struggles to stay fit long enough for a regular run. Should Thomas not return in January, Ajose is under a lot of pressure to keep us up. This is a scenario I am sure Power and Ling are considering all of the time.
So what options are there should the worse happen and Thomas not come back and Obika gets injured though? I see four potential outcomes:
1. Town have to search the transfer market and find at least one, probably two players who can take the burden of Ajose’s shoulders. Swindon have just signed young Jamie Calvin who hopefully goes on to replicate former non league strikers Jamie Vardy or Charlie Austin. The former Watford and Oxford scholar is available straight away and will be looking to make an impact after signing his one year deal. His addition does help Ling with his current loan selection headache as there are now more options up front allowing him to drop Wes Thomas if he sees fit.
2. Alternatively, Town could look to bring back Nile Ranger. He regularly posts on social media pictures of his time at Swindon. He had a relationship with Ajose that worked and we could probably get him on a similar contract to what he is on at Blackpool which is not extortionate. Power has said no before I know but he has also said no to Ajose or Louis Thompson signing again.
3. Miles Storey is given another chance. Perhaps not the statement that most fans would be after but you cannot argue he is in form. Since signing for Inverness on loan he has scored seven in eleven games. That is a strike rate of 0.64 which is better than Thomas or Obika and Ajose, albeit in a poor league. His record for Swindon may not read as impressive with six in thirty nine (0.15 per game) but thirty of those are off of the bench.
4. Perhaps Town do nothing and trust Ajose to score enough goals, to gain us enough points to stay up/go up. I do not doubt he could do that but it is an awful lot of pressure for one man.
I am not saying Ajose is a one man team. Nor am I saying he should be held in the same regard as Charlie Austin, Simon Cox or Super Sammy Parkin but what I am saying is whether we stay in a relegation dog fight, or Ling manages to stage a remarkable charge for the Playoffs, we do have plenty of hope and at the top of that list is Nicky Ajose.
picture credit flicwiltshire.com
If you want to break down the stats to only represent actual playing time then you could make it goals per 90 mins rather than per appearance.
Interestingly most strikers actually have a better strike rate coming off the bench as more goals are scored late in games by fresher players.