This time last season, Stanley Aborah was probably most Notts fans favourite Ricardo Moniz summer signing. That being said, he was arguably a lot of fans favourite player in general. His ability on the ball, flashes of sheer brilliance and ability to play the ‘Barcelona Pass’ (slipped in between fullback and centre half) made him an almost instant hit at Meadow Lane.
Somewhat bizarrely, his ‘spat’ with Jamie Fullarton – allegedly Aborah had told Fullarton from day one of his (short) tenure that he wanted to play for Moniz and not Notts County – only saw his position strengthened with the Notts faithful lambasting Fullarton for refusing to include Stanley in any match day squads – “Ohhhhhhhh Stanley Aborah…” could be heard from all corners of ML.
But this season, Aborah seems to have gone from hero to zero, culminating in him gifting Grimsby a second goal in the 2-2 draw 2 weekends ago, being substituted shortly after and not featuring against Accrington. The terraces, Twitter and I’m sure the message boards have been awash with murmurings that Aborah isn’t worthy of a starting berth, not bothered anymore, or useless. Now, whilst two of these are debatable (and the third ridiculous), there seems to be an issue with Stanley – but what is it?
When John Sheridan came in, he instantly commented on the ability of Aborah and intimated during pre season that he could find himself higher up the pitch this season – music to most fans ears. Sadly, it seems Aborah at ‘Number 10’ may not be long lived. I put this down, not solely to Aborah, but to the general ability level of Notts players and League 2. Any ‘Number 10’ thrives on having the ball consistently during 90 minutes – are enough Notts players good enough to get Aborah the ball in players where he can hurt the opposition? Arguably not. Apart from Michael O’Connor (who himself has yet to fully fire this season), Notts have a chronic lack of ability on and with the ball – not many players can thread intricate balls into pockets of space which Aborah can turn into danger. Add this to the fact plenty of League 2 teams will, especially at ML, come to contain Notts and pack the midfield with 5 players, Aborah often hasn’t and won’t be afforded such space. I fully appreciate that Aborah has to create himself space by being clever and working hard off the ball, but when he does, he is unable to be found by team mates.
Another issue some fans have with Aborah is his work rate. Some see Aborah as unable to dominate a midfield in League 2 in the sense of creating chances, breaking up play and ‘getting around’ opposition players. I’d tend to agree with this, but only when he is played in a 2 man midfield; particularly alongside O’Connor. These two are undoubtedly our two most gifted and ‘best’ footballers and we should definitely be building our team around them, but when they play together, Notts look easy to break through down the centre of the park – Grimsby, recently promoted from the conference, Grimsby time and again cut through the heart of Notts’ side and put plenty of pressure on an already shaky looking back four. Neither player are particularly ‘defensively minded’, they break play up by clever positioning or not actually giving the ball away in the first place. However, when an opposition packs the midfield, or break at pace, O’Connor and Aborah struggle to contain and negate this threat effectively. When Matt Tootle was pushed into CM against Grimsby, all of a sudden Notts had a platform from which to build and a Vadine Oliver inspired 25 minutes later; bingo.
I’d say the ideal scenario for allowing Aborah to flourish is by playing him in front of the back four, with O’Connor and Tootle or Curtis Thompson in front of him. By utilising two of these 3 options, firstly, the midfield has a mix of creativity, work rate and ball winning ability. Secondly, Aborah will see much more of the ball which will allow him to use his passing range and vision to start off attacks and see Notts be more of a consistent threat in the final third. In turn, this would allow the full backs to start higher up the pitch in order to give Notts a more attacking outlook – something we do not seem to have, especially at ML. Finally, having a three man midfield, would allow an element of rotation between the three – allowing Aborah to foray forward when the game allows to support a front three. A front three that could be brought in closer proximity by allowing the full backs to start higher up the pitch. We may even see Jon Forte close to the penalty area – another thing sadly lacking at ML this season.
It’ll be interesting to see what role Aborah plays for the remainder of the season. My initial thought in the summer was he wouldn’t be a ‘Sheridan type of player’, but his obvious ability has shone through for the manager. I hope we build our team around the likes of Stan and Michael O’Connor, but will the league, tactics and squad allow us to see this home to fruition? Only time will tell.