Many of these player studies tend to involve younger, newer faces starting to make their mark on the Irish League scene. Players such as Bobby Burns, Gavin Whyte, Leroy Millar to salvage a few from the last year or so. This isn’t always possible and indeed having watched utility man Rodney Brown clear and head away everything as a stand-in for Colin Coates, I’m thinking he could have been a good one also. This is no reflection on left-back Michael Ruddy who is a more familiar face in the Irish League.
It does highlight the more senior average age of the Crusaders team though that has been worked on in January. So in this game, he had a couple of unfamiliar situations to deal with firstly in the form of his regular centre-back, Colin Coates’ absence. He was also faced by central midfielder Conor Pepper who had been shunted out to the right wing to accommodate Glentoran’s overfill in that position.
He was not to have too trying a game. Crusaders made the stronger start and most of their threat went down their right so he was not unduly troubled. His first action was a brute thump of the ball down the pitch which is a scrappy start was not unduly out of place. He won an aerial battle against Pepper but then found the nature of a lot of his shift drawn up for him. Pepper is by no means a right-winger but he is a busy, energetic player who is ‘prone to wander’ shall we say. There then, lay Ruddy’s task as to wonder whether to keep with him or hand him over.
So a certain ‘zonal’ element to his game kicked in and this requires a certain experience. He tidied up some loose ball on the touchline winning a free-kick from Allen, but his main job for a while was to provide some left flank outlet when options ground to a halt on the right. This he did well and tried to link with Heatley further up the pitch.
Nevertheless, he stuck to his main job of keeping tabs on Pepper, not letting him turn and generally trying to neutralise any detonations in his patch. His most trying moment in the first-half involved a weakly bouncing ball within a short distance of his penalty area. The ball did not have enough energy on it to head back to his goalkeeper. Nor did he have the strength to manufacture the energy either, such was its difficulty. Under pressure, he made a split-second decision to head the ball back and away from his net knowing, that he would have to defend it again. It was the sort of situation that causes defences havoc so due credit to him for managing that situation.
If that was a good moment for him as another knock-about in the six-yard box saw Stephen Gordon almost give Glentoran the lead. Gordon had reversed a bouncing ball onto the Crusaders left-hand post and Ruddy was first there to shepherd the ball away. As the half ended, he was horizontal heading the ball away at the penalty spot to release more pressure on his side. This is the sort of reliability that managers and teams look for in defenders. In other words, it is the sort of reliability and nous that you simply expect from a senior player. The sort of reliability that needs to be within and not necessarily coached.
The second half saw his side generally maintain pressure on the opposition. He does the simple things well. His positioning his good both in attack and defence and he understands his job is to defend rather than other possibilities. Occasionally he wasn’t quite balanced in making the tackle, but by and large, knows to make himself something to get around. This is a skill in itself, similar to a goalkeeper in a one-on-one. It makes the attacker make the decision. This is so much more preferable rather than going diving in.
We didn’t really get a chance to see what his crossing might have been like as Heatley and Cushley are not the types to feed off deep crosses. He had one or two loose passes in the second half and indeed picked up a booking which he felt slightly aggrieved by. It looked untidy rather than poor or nasty. He wouldn’t be the first full-back who tends to pick up bookings once he gets stranded in the middle of the pitch. As mentioned, it wouldn’t have been one of his more trying games but defenders tend to look at themselves as ensuring they win their one on ones and nobody got the better of him today. He is not always the first choice left-back but did his job in ensuring his team acquired another clean sheet.