WITH two substitutes already made in the home game against Northampton Town, Carl Fletcher faced a decision when Rhys Griffiths went down injured and had to be replaced.His remaining outfield substitutes included Joe Lennox, Andres Gurrieri and Johnny Gorman. All wide midfielders by trade, and all equipped to take up a wide berth on the park, with Alex MacDonald possibly moving to centre- forward.
It seemed the obvious call; it was just a matter of which of them the Gaffer turned to.
It was none of the above. Fletcher looked past Lennox, Gurrieri and Gorman and, instead, pointed the finger at defender Curtis Nelson.
The defender who has played more than 60 games for Argyle without scoring.
The defender who had started every previous game this season, mainly at right-back, once at centre-half.
The defender who had very occasionally made a cameo in midfield.
Even when he came on, one suspects many supporters expected him to slot in at right full-back, pushing Durrell Berry forward. It was not the case – Curtis headed straight for the front line, alongside Warren Feeney.
Seven minutes after his introduction, Robbie Williams lofted a cross into the Cobblers’ area. Cue Nelson, rising like a cannon tower at Trafalgar in 1805, to head home Argyle third goal of the afternoon. The first of his professional career.
A masterstroke from the manager? He would soon explain his thinking.
“We know Northampton are a big side, physical side, very good at set-pieces,” said Fletch. “They’ve got a huge, long throw.
“So, once we had to take Griff off, we could have pushed Macca up front with Feeno and brought on any one of Johnny, Andres or Joe, but it would have left us short defensively. It was a case of that.
“At the time, it was the right decision to do because we needed that extra marker. For all the hard work that Johnny, Andres and Joe would have given us, they’re not going to mark big Artell at a set-piece.
“It was what we needed to do at the time. He’s a handful. He’s big and strong. He’s got a great leap. He’s a headache. He might not always go up there and score, but defenders’ concentration might be focused on him and it might be someone else that gets a chance. It’s a good option to have.”
This was the first game thus far in 2012-13 that 19-year-old Nelson had not started. Not one to sulk, he came off the bench to make a significant impact, an attitude that will please his manager, who holds great value in attitude, commitment and hard work.
“That’s why you have a squad,” said Carl. “You can pick only 11 players. Some weeks you’re playing, some weeks you’re not.
“The way football is, you never know when you’re going to be needed. It changes so quickly, during games or during weeks.
“Every player in my squad has got to be ready and prepared to play and – like today – have an impact on the game.”