The latest Jack Grealish loan report
Since long-time Magpie supporter and writer Jacob Daniel‘s last Jack Grealish loan report,at the end of last year, the player seemingly caught fire. Did he read it? In what was a sobering view of a player trying to get some traction in a struggling lower league side, Grealish suddenly found his feet, scored some goals and helped inspire an upturn in fortunes at Meadow Lane. We’d like to once again thanks Jacob for his excellent report below, as we get an insight into what’s been happening in the past few weeks on the pitch for Grealish.
A change in fortune?
Two months is a long time, right? Enough time has elapsed for another look at Jack Grealish, anyway, whose progress has been immeasurable since the mixed review I gave of his first couple of months at Meadow Lane. Since my last article the gloom has started lift from Trent side, with Shaun Derry having introduced a new ethic of organisation and hard work to a team who previously looked as though they were playing without any kind of plan or structure, eleven strangers roaming aimlessly around and doing a couple of step-overs before narrowly losing to Gillingham.
All of the squad, beyond the swiftly marginalised Joss Labadie and Yoann Arquin, have bought into Derry’s methods and, unsurprisingly, benefited massively from them – but no one more so than young Jack Grealish, who has begun to flourish in a roaming left-wing role, systematically terrorising League One along with his partner in crime Callum McGregor.
Interestingly enough, things weren’t looking great for Grealish’s Notts career when Derry first arrived at Meadow Lane – he was dropped for the league defeats to Wolves and Shrewsbury Town, but since almost single-handedly earning a point for Notts as a substitute in the latter fixture, he has been ever-present and integral to our slow, painful climb towards safety. I am speculating, of course, but dropping to the bench for a couple of games seemed to have done Grealish the world of good, he returned a more purposeful, more involved player, having much more impact on games than the largely peripheral but wonderfully talented kid that we had seen previously.
The most obvious turning points, though, were the successive victories over Gillingham and Colchester United, games in which Grealish was irrepressible, notching his first two senior goals. The late clincher against the Gills was particularly memorable, Grealish drifting past any number of defenders before smashing past ex-Notts ‘keeper Stuart Nelson and running off to celebrate with his dad – a lovely moment. Colchester, though, was even more impressive as he grew in confidence after opening the scoring, terrorising the Essex side with his quick interplay with McGregor and André Boucaud before providing his best moment so far – a delightful assist for Gary Liddle after he ran half the length of the pitch before sliding a perfectly weighted pass for the midfielder to slot home the fourth.
It’s at this high point, though, that I’m going to dip back into circumspect mode and have another look at where he needs to improve – Grealish’s impact is certainly at its most obvious, its most brilliant, in games where Notts have already won the midfield battle and are controlling matters. He is yet to provide that moment of brilliance to snatch a narrow victory or steal a point that has to be a central part of such a creative player’s armoury. He must also learn to deal with the fact that teams, at this level at least, have him pigeonholed as Notts’ primary attacking threat, with all of Notts’ recent opposition having tried varying degrees of man marking and aggressive tactics to take him out of the game. This has worked to varying degrees, he was targeted as part of the Bristol City massacre that left Gary Liddle and Callum Ball on a stretcher, but continued to twist the blood of both the original City right back and the one they brought on to replace him, but at Crawley Town he was so successfully nullified that no one really noticed when Derry withdrew him after an hour.
For me, though, what proved to be his last performance for Notts proved to be his most impressive – in last weekend’s crucial 2-1 victory over Sheffield United. Grealish didn’t score, nor did he assist, but his constant movement and drifting into the pockets of space that had been freed up by McGregor’s return to Celtic was what created Notts the space to counter attack into and led to both of the goals, a happy consequence of a team’s attempts to compensate for Grealish’s threat. Some of the more frustrating aspects of his game were still on show – on a handful of occasions he tried to take on one player too many rather than have a shot at goal or release the ball quicker, but this dribbling ability came to the fore in the dying minutes when Grealish won a succession of free kicks to take the pressure off of an increasingly beleaguered and deep County defence. This was a clear sign of the maturity and experience that Grealish has developed in his short time at Meadow Lane and is a great sign of how well he is able to take on new ideas and adapt his game to senior football.
Grealish’s immediate future
This, then, brings me on to the future. As I write this, Jack is supposedly at Meadow Lane trying to finalise a deal to bring him back to the club until the end of the season, a deal that seemed to have been sorted last week when he tweeted that he had chosen to remain at Meadow Lane. Villa are yet to be as convinced, though, having played him the FA Youth Cup tie at Liverpool this week, a game that I watched and which showed just how much he still has to learn. For the most part he seemed frustrated at the drop down to youth team football and the difference between the youth cup and the high pressure environment of a relegation scrap in League One.
I am, of course, somewhat biased, but I can’t see how either remaining at Villa Park or moving elsewhere would be the best thing for Grealish’s career at this point. The clubs linked with moves for him seem to be Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, the former being in a level of disarray after an awful run of form and FA Cup defeat to non-league Kidderminster Harriers and the latter on a bizarre crusade to sign all of the good attacking players in League One, including the aforementioned McGregor. [Update – Villa boss Paul Lambert has confirmed Grealish will be back at Notts County until May’14]
I also don’t think that Jack is ready for first team football yet, and that throwing him into a Villa side low on confidence and playing such a reactive, non-possession based style of football (sorry!) is more likely to damage his future prospects than enhance them. Hopefully a deal can be thrashed out and he can continued his improvement to the point of being ready for the Villa squad next season.
Last time I wrote I remember saying that Grealish’s career could go either way, that he had the raw talent to become a Premiership player but needed to work on his decision making and ability to impact games – this is coming and the best thing that I can say about him the last two months is that there is no longer much doubt in my mind. He’s going to be a very, very good player and hopefully Notts can be proud of the role they’ve played in his development when we look back on it in five year’s time.
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