O’Donovan’s gravity a vital mechanism for the Jets

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    The video assistant referee-affected 2-2 draw with the Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday was Roy O’Donovan’s second game back from an extended injury convalescence.

    The Jets – not coincidentally – have suffered all four of their defeats in matches where they’ve been without their Irish striker. His seven goals in nine games this season is as tangible an impact as could be expected, but his performance against the Wanderers – the effects of which weren’t chiselled into the scoreboard – quietly communicated a subtler kind of value, just as treasured as the lustrous currency of goals and assists.

    An off-the-shoulder striker always applies pressure to a back line. Merely the threat of scoring a goal like this is enough to compromise the integrity of a defensive system, turning a calm marker into a skittish, fretting victim. Furthermore, the effects of this aren’t exclusively to the benefit of the said striker; it causes waves of knock-on effects to ripple through the match, benefiting teammates and hindering tangential opponents.

    The reputation for scoring a goal like O’Donovan did for the Mariners against the Wanderers last season is a good start, but the threat must also be reasserted on the day too, and O’Donovan wasted little time on Friday, even though Newcastle began the game sluggishly. Just 20 minutes in, a rudimentary long ball sent a scampering O’Donovan through, forcing Vedran Janjetovic to intervene with a diving header.

    A lovely pass, to be sure, but the well-timed run and sudden burst of speed were just as important. The chance sent a ripple of alarm through the Wanderers defence, and you can bet Janjetovic would have made clear exactly how much he appreciated being forced to assume a horizontal airborne position in the open field.

    A few minutes later another handsome hoof connected with a dashing O’Donovan, this time running from the inside out, snagging the attention of the full width of Western Sydney’s defence. Two clear warnings.

    O’Donovan must be a nightmare to play against, a slippery presence up front, who will often take weak-side positions – you can see him lingering at the top-right of the frame – to drag defenders away from the ball. There is nothing more worrying for a defender than this kind of wavering opponent, seemingly uninvolved but at the same time worthy of near constant and almost paranoid attention.

    So, now established in this match as this specific kind of attacking hazard, here’s an illustrated example of how O’Donovan’s ‘gravity’ affects the Jets’ attacking functions even when he isn’t tangibly utilised.

    Of course this promising situation was aided by the fact it occurred against a team playing Roly Bonevacia, Marcelo Carrusca and Steve Lustica as a midfield trio, none of whom could be described as one of the league’s premier defensive midfielders and who acted as such here. But the space that Patito Rodriguez enjoyed was as much the result of O’Donovan’s gravity as it was anything Western Sydney did or didn’t do. This is just one small example of the phenomenon in action; there would be a rather more eye-catching example later on.

    Roy O'Donovan of the Jets celebrates scoring

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    O’Donovan’s return to the starting striker’s role has a supplementary benefit too: returning Andrew Nabbout to a more flexible alternative position in the starting XI.

    Nabbout is more than capable in the centre forward’s role – he has six goals and three assists in 12 starts as striker – but his assets as a player are generally more suited to the wider ranges near the wings, or at least in areas where he has more time and space to work with on the ball. He is best where he is not teetering on the edge of that sheer drop into offside territory. Nabbout has been found offside on more occasions than any player in the league.

    Nabbout’s hustle is phenomenal. In the deeper midfield areas, with the ball circulating, he revels in the barging and the charging, dribbling through bodies, banging speculative passes, harrying opponents off the ball and just generally making a robust, physical nuisance of himself.

    He can also utilise these qualities to assist defensively from wider positions, something it would be hard to provide sitting on the shoulder of the last man.

    He’s such a powerful, eager attacker, and it seems a shame not to use him in the role that takes full advantage of this. Don’t underestimate the value of getting Nabbout involved in the thick of the action either; he is a player for whom confidence seems paramount and for whom things like touch and technique need to be thoroughly warmed up during matches.

    Andrew Nabbout

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    For instance, how about the technique required to strike the ball with the outside of your foot, bending it just inside the far post, having burst through a maw of tacklers on the full sprint?

    Although Nabbout’s wondrous equaliser seemed a moment of pure individual virtuosity, O’Donovan’s movement was, if not quite at the centre of it, then at least playing a crucial supporting role from the fringes.

    You can see from the kick-off O’Donovan haring forward, dragging the defence back with him. The Western Sydney centre backs may have been expecting a long ball to the Irishman and were back-tracking accordingly to the point they both retreat into their own box and refuse to go out and meet Nabbout.

    Nabbout and Dimi Petratos – two thirds of an attacking midfield line that had been fluidly interchanging positions all evening – both take up position on the right. O’Donovan’s run first makes room for Petratos to streak into and then ekes out further pasture for Petratos to backheel into.

    Nabbout’s run, all bustle and inertia, leaves a slide tackle flailing in vain, and his shot is, well, let’s just say it’s a little better than the last time he applied the outside of his boot to the ball. Again, as in the illustrated chance detailed above, O’Donovan’s off-the-ball movement carves out space for his teammates to fill and flourish in.

    The Jets have scored freely this season using sudden, direct passing as a key pillar of their attack. They have fewer passes per goal than any other team in the league. The viability of this approach hinges on O’Donovan’s skills, but those skills, as specific as they seem at first glance, offer so much more than just the bolstered hope that a long ball might be successfully chased down.

    Newcastle are a better team with him in the side, even when he isn’t scoring – and as difficult as it might be to tear your eyes away from Nabbout’s wonder-goal, doing so allows us to see the subtler but no less important value O’Donovan holds for the Jets.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • February 18th 2018 @ 8:36am
      BrainsTrust said | February 18th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      Its no coincidence that Newcastle have been letting the goals in since the other foreigner has started.
      Donovan is older,slower,his workrate is okay but not as good as Chapness and more likely to get a red card.,Nabbout has real pace to bother the opposition, and they have done well without Donovan.
      The foreign player worship is over the top. Nabbout,Petratos and Ugargovic are the key players. Without them they would be at bottom of the table. Every fool that wrote that the Jets would be better with the foreigners well they have conceded 7 goals in 4 matches whereas they conceded 17 goals in 16 matches previously.
      Being more skilful counts for nothing if they lack elsewhere, last night the Mariners failed to win because of their foreign player who was just putting on some sort of show without actually doing any defending and was left on the pitch for the whole match.

      • February 18th 2018 @ 10:27am
        Kangajets said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Jets have struggled when kantarovski of all players is injured, but in my eyes Roy O’Donovan is the icing on the cake for the jets .
        Rodriguez is doing a lot of things well and taking the heat off petratos.
        Agree with u abt the solid contributions from Nabbout petratos and ugarchovic.

        Don’t forget about Ronny Vargas either .

        As for conceding goals , only 2 clean sheets all season came after the transfer window. It’s not in the Jets DNA to park the bus . It’s a refreshing change .

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 3:58am
        That A-League Fan said | February 20th 2018 @ 3:58am | ! Report

        O Donovan is like the final piece to the puzzle.

    • February 18th 2018 @ 10:15am
      Fadida said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Good article as ever Evan. One of the great frustrations in watching the Jets in recent seasons was having all attacking players showing to feet, compressing play. Watching O’Donovan and Nabbout making runs in behind, opening up midfield spaces and forcing defenders to make decisions is as joy!

      • February 18th 2018 @ 10:33am
        Kangajets said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

        Don’t you love it , also magree makes fantastic runs off the ball as well .

        Just have to find a spot for Wayne brown off the field would be ideal . I think he is the weak link . Hopeing that kantarovski is ready to play again soon.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 10:41am
        Griffo said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        In the past the shear number of runs that went unanswered, then eventually died off in the season, was maddening. The attacking play became too predictable.

        It’s good to give defenders some options to think about.

    • February 18th 2018 @ 10:30am
      Kangajets said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      I said to my mates halfway through last season, we must steal this Roy O’Donovan from the mariners, he’s is a crazy hot headed speed machine that can score goals .

      For mine , he was the catalyst of my optimism that the jets would win the grand final this season

      Dreaming maybe , but the jets are still right up there , and Roy should be back to full fitness now .

      • February 18th 2018 @ 12:04pm
        punter said | February 18th 2018 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

        But, but what if SFC hacks him down & the ref doesn’t give a free kick, because the FFA loves to just have a one team competition.

        • February 18th 2018 @ 1:10pm
          Fadida said | February 18th 2018 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          You may be joking Punter, but watch when we next meet the number of fouls. Watch again how many it takes before yellows are handed out.

          It’s no FFA conspiracy but it’s there

        • February 18th 2018 @ 1:35pm
          Kangajets said | February 18th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          Punter

          Let’s make my thoughts clear

          Ffa do not influence referees

          Referees in Australia I believe are timid when it comes to handing out the yellow cards

          Are Sydney the only ones hacking players down . Of course not , but I think they do it on a rotation level better then other teams .
          Do I think Sydney have the best attacking unit , yes I do . It’s just the arrogance of the coach , that gets on the nose .

          What would you rather see , ninchovic and Adrian etc playing free flowing football agdinst an opponent who is allowed to play free flowing football.

          Or 20 times a game . Adrian and ninchovic get hacked down whenever the slightest sniff of freedom to play occurs ….. that’s an opinion on what u or me enjoy.

          I don’t know if you saw Italia 90 , but I thought that was the epitome of anti football, and the A league in a very competitive sport environment in Australia, I believe needs to cater to the more skilled and creative players . Italia 90 was the epitome of anti football with everyone kicking the cap out of each other . We don’t need Italia 90 in the A league.

          It’s just my opinion . I probably have said it too much now . There you go

          • February 18th 2018 @ 7:43pm
            Football is Life said | February 18th 2018 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

            Evening All,

            Ok…so let’s talk refs. A) Our referees education is no where near adequate. With players like Ninkovic, Miejierski, Maccarone, Bobo etc not to mention all the Australian lads with overseas experience, the refs are way out of their depth. The players are smarter.

            B) When was the last time you saw an EPL match where the match was about the ref?? Our referees need to be be given one heck of a dressing down and told that the game is not about them, its about the football.

            C) our referees need to understand that the quality of football is directly effected by their ability to manage the game and the flow on effect is how the public and the those that watch football percieve the game.

            • February 18th 2018 @ 8:05pm
              Fadida said | February 18th 2018 @ 8:05pm | ! Report

              Watch the EPL a bit closer. The refs are copping enormous scrutiny and flak on a regular basis. Managers are crying out for the VAR, and where it’s used it’s controversial

              • February 18th 2018 @ 8:11pm
                Football is Life said | February 18th 2018 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

                my downfall, I am not a eurosnob, I believe in supporting the A-League and giving my time and money to see our game grow. A-League first, someone else’s league second.

              • February 19th 2018 @ 7:31am
                Fadida said | February 19th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

                Perhaps you shouldn’t make a claim based on a league you don’t watch.

                I’m primarily an A-league watcher too but I read a few EPL sites and the refs aren’t being applauded

    • February 18th 2018 @ 8:08pm
      Football is Life said | February 18th 2018 @ 8:08pm | ! Report

      Ok, I have to have a second crack at this…..the NBN (yesterday’s technology tomorrow). What I said before I had tech probs was as follows:

      Defence: One of two essential pillars that provide a frame work for the midfield to work within. The jets have Hyphen and Nige B, Steve G and the Hoff bringing experience and cohesion. Vujica, Lochie Jackson, Cowburn and Alessi bring youth and have a priceless learning experience for the future

      Attack: The second essential pillar. Roy the Boy brings experience, confidence and ruthlessness which is what every team needs, an out and out hunter just waiting for the kill. Young Joey Champness and Stevie U could not ask for a better mentor.

      Midfield: this brings a smile to my dial. Wow, Vargas, Pato, Bomber Brown and Dimi. Andrew Nabbout is brilliant and can learn even more from the likes of the aforementioned names. then you have the youth like McGhree, Kosta P and Devante Clue who again have a priceless learning opportunity.

      Ernie has construct a beautiful mix of skill, age, mindset all with a view to the future. this is a foundation that an empiire could be built on. What a Sydney going to do when Dad’s Army all move on or fall over? Hear that, it’s the sound of the clock ticking for our supposed best coach in the country. Graham “the mouth” Arnold doesnt believe in youth development. Meanwhile Ernie M goes quielty about his business. God Bless Ernie and Nice Work Griffo in your recruitment activities… Come on you Jets!!

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