If I had a pound for every time I’d seen a North End fan say “If only we had a decent striker”, I’d be writing this from Miami Beach with a cocktail by my side, sporting a beautiful tan. Instead, I am sat in my apartment in Cologne, with a Kölsch, trying to understand why we could not finish off Saturday’s draw away at Luton Town.
North End have really struggled for a consistent centre forward since the departure of Jordan Hugill in the 2018 January transfer window. Since then, the likes of Seani Maguire, Louis Moult, Jayden Stockley, David Nugent and Tom Barkhuizen have led the line, but none of them have really claimed the spot and made it their own.
Maguire and Barkhuizen are certainly favourable options for Neil, but I get the impression he would prefer to field both in wide positions if he had the choice. Moult started off this campaign with some good performances and looked to hit the ground running, but suffered a season-ending injury away at Swansea in August.
Nugent and Stockley have had very indifferent seasons thus far; both have showed glimpses of brilliance in specific games, however neither look a serious goal threat on a consistent basis.
With eight games left and a play-off spot still up for grabs, Neil has some tough decisions to make over the next month, but I truly believe the centre forward selection will probably be his toughest choice each week.
Neil is, however, boosted with the additional option of Billy Bodin. He was set to miss the rest of the season with injury prior to the suspension of the EFL due to the goal pandemic, but is now back; he came on as a substitute against Luton on Saturday.
Bodin has played down the middle away at Nottingham Forest back in August and managed to get himself on the scoresheet. His movement is one of his key strengths, as he can also go on either foot which makes him a handful for defenders. He additionally offers something our current set of forwards do not possess: a bit of magic.
Games can be won, and goals can be scored from a moment of brilliance. His goal against Forest was a prime example of this. He received a bobbly pass from Alan Browne, and had two defenders blocking his way of a clear shot. He pulled off a Cruyff turn, sold both defenders and slotted it across the keeper.
Bodin also had a similar chance just before his goal at Forest, and he sold the defender with the same turn, having made a superb run in behind the centre half. That was a common theme in the game as Bodin posed a real threat in his one game as a striker.
His goal against West Ham in the 2018 pre-season friendly is another great example of him creating something out of nothing, as he plucked the ball out of the air, beat a defender and scored.
He has the ability to drop off the centre-halves and create chances, whilst he can also interchange with the other three players supporting him in Alex Neil’s 4-2-3-1, leading to a more flexible forward line. He moves into positions that a traditional number 9 would usually take up, he is strong with both feet, and has the ability to send a defender the wrong way.
Could he be our short-term solution and help us secure a play-off place?
I think he could be.
This is a guest article by Dezzie Richardson, you can follow him on Twitter @DezzieRich