Talk of the Town: Andi Thanoj gives Mariners flexibility in midfield
AFTER his performance against Luton in midweek, many fans will hope Andi Thanoj is rewarded with a starting spot in the Grimsby Town side this afternoon.
That's not meant as a slight on Derek Niven, who in my eyes is one of the main reasons behind Town's success this season.
But, given the fact that skipper Craig Disley is currently playing his best football since arriving at Blundell Park, in the current system, the remaining berth in the centre of midfield looks to be a straight scrap between the battling Scot and the young Albanian.
Between the two, Rob Scott and Paul Hurst have two contrasting options.
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While Niven is, quite rightly, 'go to guy' for the kind of battles seen at Cambridge earlier this month, Thanoj is probably Town's best option in more open games where the 20-year-old has the opportunity to showcase his best attributes.
In the FA Trophy clash with the Hatters, Thanoj enjoyed plenty of space in the middle of the park and worked superbly in tandem with Disley.
Despite what many would have predicted, it was the youngster, rather than his captain, who was the more defensively mind of the two. That allowed Disley to continue in the more, adventurous, swashbuckling vein that fans have been accustomed to seeing him in this campaign.
As my colleague Lee Jones remarked, Thanoj fulfilled 'the quarter-back' role to a tee, sitting deeper and taking advantage of all the space the Hatter's powder-puff midfield afforded him.
As well as exhibiting the passing game that saw him earmarked as a promising ball-playing midfielder ever since his days in the Youth team, he also showed an aptitude for the 'uglier' side of the game; cutting out space and breaking up play.
He wasn't as proficient in this as his Scottish counterpart. After all, Niven freely admits that he's built a career on, as he once put it, "breaking up play and giving it to the lads that can play football" – but there were certainly some encouraging signs.
The managers could have turned to Thanoj for the trip to East Anglia to take on Cambridge earlier this month, but with a heavier pitch, against a more compact, more physical side, Niven was the man they plumped for.
And it proved to be the right decision as the Scot underlined his importance to the side with a gritty, battling performance that helped to earn the Mariners a hard-fought away point.
And I think that is the key – with Thanoj, you have to pick and choose his games.
The youngster could be the answer at home, where the onus is on Town to 'go at' teams and force the issue, leaving Niven for those tight away games where a more compact and dogged midfield unit is called for?
Perhaps that formula is too arbitrary.
But it's certainly good news for Town's promotion push that they have two very different aces up their sleeve to pick and choose from.
This afternoon's clash with mid-table Alfreton could be the kind of game that's tailor-made for Thanoj.
But if Scott and Hurst opt for Niven, surely no-one inside Blundell Park will be too disappointed – after all he's rarely let his side down this season either.