Fit and Fitting
NEW signings, new-found form of fringe players and some returns to full health means John Sheridan has a versatile Argyle squad to choose from ahead of their Easter fixtures.
The Pilgrims’ 3-0 victory over Cheltenham Town last was not just an emphatic return to form for Sheridan’s men; it was also proof that they could succeed under more trying circumstances than usual.
Injuries to Kelvin Mellor and Lee Cox saw the boss reshuffle his starting formation, pushing Anthony O’Connor out to right wing-back and playing two holding midfielders, Bobby Reid and Dominic Blizzard, allowing Jason Banton to occupy a more advanced midfield role upon his return to the team.
The changes proved to be successful ones and now Mellor, Cox and Ben Purrington – who also missed the game through injury – should be available for the Good Friday fixture against Burton Albion, leaving Sheridan with the sort of selection headaches he welcomes.
“Coxy’s fit now and trained all week," said John. "Ben Purrington’s trained. Kelvin will train tomorrow. He’s not missed any fitness and is as fit as anything; he's done what he had to do with the physio this week.
“Those were the three lads that were missing last week, so everyone else is fit and available. I’ve got a strong 22 players to pick 18 from. It’s important that everyone stays fit, and I’ve said many times that it’s about my squad.
“Jason Banton came in last week and did well. He’s trained really well the last two or three weeks and he’s got his rewards by being put back in the team, and I feel as though he didn’t let himself down. We need a lot more of that for the final few games.
“Every player’s got a chance of starting. Just because we won 3-0 doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to pick the same team. I always try to put a team out that’s going to win us the game.”
Reuben Reid played a starring role in the victory at Whaddon Road, netting a brace, and Sheridan believes his top goal-scorer is back to full fitness at the perfect time of the season.
"He’s been training; he’s obviously got little niggles and he has his injections, but if I didn’t feel he was fit to play, I wouldn’t be playing him,” said John.
“He’s got his fitness and there is nothing wrong with that. He misses the odd day and I just feel that he needs to get his sharpness. Hopefully the couple of goals he got last week will give him that confidence because we need him on the pitch, but he’s fully fit in my eyes.”
Two players are also very much in with a chance of making their Home Park debut against the Brewers: Zak Ansah and Gethin Jones. Ansah marked his professional debut – an eye-catching substitute performance against the Robins – with a goal, and has backed that showing up with impressive displays on the training field.
“He did well when he came on,” said John. “He was bright, had some good attempts on target and was a threat.
“I thought we were comfortable in the game so he came on at a good stage, but he’s an intelligent footballer; when you’ve been at Arsenal and at a Championship club he’s got to be an intelligent footballer, and you can see that in training.
“He’s relaxed and takes care of the ball, but he’s got an eye for a goal and I’m pleased that, on his full first-team debut, he’s scored a goal. He’s hit the ground running and got a chance of starting on Friday.”
After captaining Wales’ under-21 side in midweek, Everton youngster Gethin Jones met up with the Argyle squad for the first time on Thursday, ahead of the game against the Brewers, and John is eager to see how Gethin fits in with the rest of the lads.
“He played as captain which is a really good achievement for him," said John. "A 19-year old captaining the under-21s, so he’s got to have something about him. He’s really looking forward to coming and we are looking forward to getting him in.
“He’ll give us some more options, push people and hopefully he will get some playing time while he’s here.
“Zak has fit in really well, I’m sure Gethin will fit in well, so it just adds strength and keeps people who feel as if they are in the team on their toes.
“They just know that there’s one or two people that are pushing and trying to take their place, and that’s what I want towards the end of the season.”