Talk of the Town: Aswad Thomas is a vital cog in the Grimsby Town machine
THE biggest boost for the Mariners ahead of this afternoon's clash at Cambridge must be the return of Aswad Thomas.
The left-back has been out of action since New Year's Day thanks to a three-match suspension and a couple of postponements.
But the full-back is due to start against the U's at the Abbey Stadium today – provided the match beats the weather – and will bring another dimension to Town's attacking play if he does.
In fairness to Bradley Wood, the youngster has filled in admirably during Thomas' lay-off, as he always does.
Opposing wingers rarely get the better of the former Youth-teamer and I'm yet to see him a shirk a tackle ever, which always endears a player to the fans.
However, playing a right-footer at left-back is never ideal, especially when it comes to going forward.
That's particularly true given how the Mariners set up this campaign.
Whether it's Jamie Devitt on the left flank or Scott Neilson before him, both players love to cut inside off the wing onto their right-foots to link up with the forwards or have a shot on goal.
That leaves a gaping hole on the outside for a fast, left-footed, overlapping full-back to charge into.
And no one at this level does that better than Thomas.
The former Charlton trainee arrived from Braintree in the summer with a big reputation, and he hasn't disappointed.
Defensively, he has been a core part of the meanest backline in the Conference, while, going forward, his marauding runs give opposition full-backs nightmares.
Just look at Town's crucial winning goal against Wrexham just before Christmas to see what he brings to the party offensively.
Thomas flew forward onto Craig Disley's cross-field pass, beat his man with a burst of pace and fired in a delightful low left-foot cross for Ross Hannah to tap home.
Neilson – in his final game in a Town shirt – had tucked inside to open the space perfectly.
That's far from the only example of Thomas' attacking impact over the first half of the season, though.
In fact, the 23-year-old has probably been the Mariners' Player of the Season so far.
His red card in the home derby with Lincoln temporarily halted his momentum and, without doubt, the Mariners have missed him this month.
The 1-1 home draw with Hereford was crying out for a burst or two forward from Thomas, especially during a frustrating second half.
And after the battling win at Welling in the Trophy, it took 84 minutes for Town to net against Hyde on Tuesday night as they struggled to break down two banks of four.
Football fans – myself included – often underestimate the importance of full-backs in the modern game.
It's no longer the position where you can 'hide' your more limited players or 'get by' with a utility man.
England C international Thomas shows that perfectly – he's the modern-day wing-back and that's exactly why the Mariners' bosses were so desperate to get him in the summer.