As Notts County fans look forward to a trip to North London this weekend many will be aware, and disappointed no doubt, of the fact that former Magpie Dion Kelly-Evans won’t be making an appearance against his former side.
The popular right back finds himself suspended after a rash tackle in the dying moments of Saturdays encounter at Southend saw him get his marching orders.
He isn’t however the only former Notts man on the Boreham Wood books, 20 year old Zak Brunt is back in the National League for his 3rd loan spell, this time at Meadow Park, and in just his second game of the 22/23 campaign he will have already played against the sides he was previously loaned to in both Southend and Notts.
Brunt caught the eye in the Wood’s opening day victory at Roots Hall, so we here at Notts County Stats consider the potential impact Brunt could have on the upcoming encounter.
A More Advanced Role
It’s fair to say Brunt never really found his feet at Meadow Lane, and whilst he must take some of the responsibility, the position in which he was played also had a large bearing on the matter.
In a Notts shirt Brunt operated much deeper than he is perhaps best suited, and Boreham Wood boss Luke Garrard seems to have identified this, playing the Blades loanee just behind his two strikers. In this more advanced role Brunt is not only afforded more space, but he is closer to the area where he is most effective.
By getting Brunt further forward, the Wood are likely to benefit from his creative abilities; Brunt averaged 1.52 smart passes per 90 in 21/22, the most in the division, and against Southend he continued in the same vein completing 2 smart passes, more than any Notts player.
Clearly, Brunt will flourish in a more attacking position, something we unfortunately didn’t see at Notts but will have to face on Saturday afternoon.
How do we stop him?
Like Notts, both Southend and Boreham Wood play a wing back system, something which makes for a fascinating tactical battle. It also makes the first game extremely useful to learn how we can best deal with Brunt and his progressive passing.
For Boreham Woods opening goal Brunt slightly dropped off his marker, which opened an angle to play the ball through to Kelly-Evans on the right flank, ultimately crafting the goal.
Notts cannot afford to allow him the time and space to pivot, and with this in mind another young midfielder, 22 year old Ed Francis, could be the answer in this regard. Francis was imperious against Maidenhead, and whilst they are a far inferior side, Francis winning 100% of his defensive duels is encouraging. Under Luke Williams he seems to have improved his physicality, something which will be crucial in order to close the gap between himself and Brunt.
Another option to consider would be central defender Aden Baldwin. The experienced centre back has already shown his ability to step out from the back, closing down quickly on the opposition forward line. If tasked with stepping out of defence and closing Brunt down, he could be the key to minimising the creative midfielders chances to penetrate the Magpies defence.
This would represent a change in style under Luke Williams though, as the central defender of the 3 often drops back, reminiscent of a modern day sweeper. A more likely alternative would be a tweaking of matchday selection, with Geraldo Bajrami coming into midfield. As a more defensive presence, the Albanian could potentially nullify the threat of Brunt by staying close to the 20 year old ensuring he isn't given the space to cause any damage.
Although an ex player Notts fans might not be as keen to see do well as Dion Kelly-Evans, keeping Brunt at close quarters and not affording him the space and angles he likes to create will be essential in halting a key element of Boreham Wood's creative attacking threat.
To summerise this game will be a big test not only of where Notts are but where Brunt is too. Running out for his 3rd National League Club loan, against a club where he never really got the chance to express himself, he will certainly be up for the game, and no doubt wanting to prove a few doubters wrong.
Francis v Brunt will be a key battle on Saturday, and is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Tom Williams - @tomhwillams23