The transfer window closes tomorrow afternoon and for me, there is one key piece of business Pompey need to attend to: keeping hold of Matt Tubbs.
After grabbing the winner off the bench against Luton, all the headlines were focussed on him this weekend, but overall it’s not been the perfect start to the season.
We’ve seen Paul Cook completely unfazed by making big calls; not retaining Ryan Taylor after a great end to last season and then picking Brian Murphy ahead of Paul Jones for our league matches to bring to an end Jones’ run of 173 consecutive career appearances. So the news that League Two’s top scorer of last season had been relegated to the bench for the trip to Luton, when so far his only absences from the starting 11 had been in the cup, didn’t really shock me. It emphasised again that absolutely nobody is safe if they are not offering the team what Cook needs in this formation which will not change.
Even the way his goal came at Kenilworth Road showed how he is better suited to having somebody up top with him. Yet more great work from Conor Chaplin, whose pace and strength forced his way through a sandwich of Luton defenders before getting a good strike away, crucially across the keeper, provided a tap in for Tubbs.
But post-match, the manager’s comments will have done little to reassure Tubbs that his situation will change in light of the goal. Cook said, “You can see why he gets goals along with another striker. Unfortunately that’s not a way I really like to play. It’s not a criticism thing. I just think that’s the way to play.”
Perhaps more worryingly for our number 9, Cook added, “I thought the game would suit him better when it was stretched. He hasn’t seen that kind of space in a game yet that he saw late on.” That, to me, sounds as though we could see more of Tubbs’ involvements as a substitute, which he would surely not be happy to settle for, given his record.
But we have to keep him for moments like that late, late strike at Luton. It may have been the kind of opportunity that most of our squad would have put away if they were on the end of it, but my point is that nobody else was on the end of it, it was Tubbs. The player with the biggest goalscoring instinct in our squad and probably across the whole of League Two.
So I see three potential solutions to this little conundrum:
Cook could decide it is in everyone’s interest for Tubbs to leave the club, be that on a loan or permanent deal. For me, this would be a huge own goal. At the point we signed him last January, he was the most coveted player in the league, with serious interest from League One as well. If he were to join another League Two team, you’d probably put your money on him finishing the season at the top of the division’s scoring charts again. We’d potentially be missing out on some crucial goals, whist handing another side a proven 20-goal-a-season striker.
Alternatively, Tubbs could be trialled in the central attacking midfield position. This is something I’ve wondered for a while, but with such strength in depth and range of attacking skills brought by each of our forward-thinking midfield players, I feel Cook would be reluctant to trial this. Tubbs’ natural instincts may see him drift further forward, creating an inadvertent 4-4-2, which would upset the balance of the side, particularly with such attack-minded wide players. But, if the ex-Crawley star could show he could do this job defensively, his late runs into the box would be a dream set-up.
Finally, Tubbs could continue to be used sparingly with the majority of his involvements coming as a substitute. This statement would have seemed unthinkable a few months ago, but I agree that 4-2-3-1 is the best system for us to play with the players in our squad, and like many, I’m yet to be convinced Tubbs has all the attributes to play the lone striker role, particularly away from home where there may be times where we go long periods without the ball.
Despite Luton’s poor league position, I fully expect them to be at the right end of the table come May, and I believe Cook will have looked at that away game as a massive test, which may have meant the need for Stockley’s hold-up play was more important to helping us get a positive result on the road and it’s his intention to restore Tubbs for our next home league match where we should enjoy the bulk of the possession and hold-up play isn’t as integral to us getting the result.