Right Back In ItBy: Sam | April 2nd, 2012
Since the turn of the year Stephen Kelly has played ten consecutive 90-minute games at right-back. Chris Baird has played only a solitary 90-minute game since the start of 2012. And that was covering left-back while Kelly was playing right-back. This surely means Baird, who was establishing himself as a regular first-teamer after the Mark Hughes reign, is no more the first-choice at right-back.
Nor indeed any position. For while Baird is the perfect utility player who can be used in defense or midfield to good effect, he did not even feature on the bench in last Saturday’s 2-1 over Norwich. Is he injured? Not according to physioroom.com. His Northern Irish teammate Aaron Hughes has also filled in at right-back occasionally. With hardly any full-backs in the Fulham team, it does seems strange not to even include Baird on the bench. So it really does look like Bairdinho’s days are coming to an end under Martin Jol. No more will we see that wicked strike of a dead ball (this responsibility belongs to JA Riise) or the odd accomplished performance in the centre of midfield.
Which brings us to the present first-choice right-back Kelly. Why is he preferred? Well, last Saturday’s game was an indicator. Kelly and Duff’s link up was very good. In one attack, Duff, or Kelly, played a cheeky and slightly audacious back-heel pass to the other in a tight spot. It worked and showed off a classy side of what Jol is implementing into the side. But it was Kelly’s run into the Norwich box that stood out the most. We expect Riise to do these sorts of attacking runs from full-back. We expect the Norwegian to blaze into the opponent’s box and latch on to a through ball to fire home. Riise has been trying this all season, but to no avail. It was Kelly’s turn on Saturday. He ran into the Norwich box and collected a fine through-ball from Bryan Ruiz. Unfortunately, Kelly, with a Norwich defender behind him tracking back well, could only strike the ball against goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Of this summer’s transfer window, a couple of full-backs would surely help in depth. If Kelly continues to perform well in the remaining games of the season, he may yield right-back as his own. So a young and promising right-back could be brought in to join the young ranks of Fulham. While at the same time Baird, it seems, may move on to a different club. Or not. In his first couple of seasons with the club, Kelly was a rare feature and look what’s happened now.
Apologies for the lack of posting. I’ll post more often now – I have a lot more free time to do so.