King's Lynn Town v Slough: Who will Culverhouse choose for Southern League play-off final challenge?
PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 May 2018
It's crunch time at The Walks as King's Lynn Town face Slough in the Southern League play-off final - Chris Lakey looks at the players Ian Culverhouse will rely upon to earn promotion.
After 51 games – most on an energy-sapping pitch – King’s Lynn Town’s players need to make one last, big effort at The Walks on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon.
Aching limbs and the odd bump and bruise will need to be forgotten for at least 90 minutes when strength of body and mind of the highest order will be required for Lynn to achieve their target for the 2017-18 season: promotion.
Manager Ian Culverhouse has given league starts to 19 different players this season, but the more relevant figure is that only 14 of those have reached double figures – and that includes one, Sam Gaughran, who is no longer at the club.
It’s either a sign that Culverhouse has had complete faith in his preferred starting line-up, or that strength in depth isn’t as good as it could be – or a combination of both.
Starting from the back, Alex Street is the owner, without a shadow of doubt, of the goalkeeper’s jersey, starting every league game of the season. He’s had his critics in the past - but not now: this is comfortably as well as I have seen him play this season, perhaps helped by the defence in front of him.
Right back Cameron Norman, another ever-present, has been a revelation. His rampaging runs down the flank combine power and precision, pace and pinpoint accuracy. An FA Youth Cup winner with Norwich City, his experience belies his tender age – just 22. Player of the season candidate.
Left-back Frazer Blake-Tracy is less of a forceful character on the other side of the pitch – it’s hard to be more forceful than Norman – but highly effective. Ask the strikers about some of the crosses he whips in. Against Weymouth he moved to centre-half and was top drawer. Quality player.
Culverhouse’s first-choice centre-halves have been Ryan Fryatt and Tom Ward, who has won and lost play-off finals in recent years. A tall lad, Ward has chipped in with a few goals, although he had to be content with a place on the bench in the semi-final against Weymouth – within a minute of coming on he had glanced a good chance just wide.
Fryatt is quality, so says Ward who described him as “one of the best attacking centre-halves that I’ve played with”.
In front of the defence sits Ryan Jarvis, 31, a player who began his career further up the field but is putting in top-quality performances in a deeper role. My preference for player of the season, he’s been that good. Teams up nicely with another ex-Canary, Simon Lappin, 35, joined in a blaze of publicity in October, alongside Grant Holt. While Holt departed, Lappin stayed, and has looked fit and hungry and has grown into this level of football – plays left-back (as he did against Weymouth) or left midfield. Anyone else notice the way he and Jarvis nipped Weymouth’s early pressure in the bud on Wednesday, changing the pace of the game to Lynn’s liking? Brilliant. Great examples to younger players, admired by their Lynn peers.
Michael Clunan misses the final with injury but deserves a mention after a fine season - he has a cross to die for.
Just in front of Jarvis you have Cameron King and Ryan Hawkins. “A proper footballer,” Culverhouse said, somewhat conspiratorially, of King a week or two back. It’s no secret. The former Canaries youngster has a lovely touch, great engine, strong will and, as shown against Weymouth, an eye for a brilliant goal.
Hawkins is a work in progress: his pace worried the living daylights out of Weymouth players who were frightened to go near him.
On his day he is unbeatable but in truth perhaps needs to be more consistent: rather have him than not though.
Craig Parker was the supplier of the other moment of magic in the semi-final – no surprise because it is clear he has good technical skills. Sometimes his work ethic does tend to hide that, but he is a real quality player. Scorer of three goals in his last two games.
Toby Hilliard worked his socks off up front against Weymouth and it may be between him and Leon Mettam for a start today – depending on the fitness of others.
But the real tour de force up front is the experienced Michael Gash.
His work-rate is phenomenal and he becomes a battering ram at times, but like Holt, in many ways, there is much more to his game than brute force: he is a player of good skills, great attitude and a real leader by example.
Lakey’s team: Street, Norman, Fryatt, Ward, Blake-Tracy; Jarvis, King, Lappin, Hawkins, Parker, Gash. Subs: Mettam, Frary, McQuaid, Siddons, Hilliard.