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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ryan Taylor, A Millers View, Part II

Following the first Exiled Robin review earlier in the week, David Rawson, a Rotherham fan and blogger to boot, has kindly offered a further view on our latest signing.

In the end, there was competition. Millwall agreed a fee with us, Scunthorpe wanted to sign him, Barnsley were keeping tabs. But Ryan Taylor signed for Bristol City and is a Championship player.

In a lot of ways, it’s a brilliant move for him. Financially, of course, it’ll be a massive pay-rise and from a footballing perspective he’ll be one of a relatively small number of players who jump straight from League Two to the second tier of English football. But it also feels a little unnatural, somehow, a little bit overly challenging, perhaps.

In reality, the Taylor that got this move, the one that turned down a new contract offer at Christmas in favour of waiting to “see if the club could match his ambitions of playing in a higher league”, has only been around for two thirds of a season. The greater part of his career to date has consisted of sputtering glimpses of potential and teasing hints of talent in performances largely marked by reticence and introversion and muffled by an inability to compete physically in the brutish battles of lower league football.

When he made his debut, as a late substitute in home defeat against Swindon, he was cause for optimism. In a side crippled by self-doubt and in the middle of a dreadful run of results, he had a go. He was above six feet tall, a rarity for a Rotherham youth player and he had a spring and a willingness in his play that the rest of his jaded team mates lacked. And he had an instinctive, instant crisp control. He could receive the ball into his feet, tame it, shield it, nudge it into a pocket of space and assess his options. It was - and is - his greatest attribute.

But that was the last we saw of him. Glandular fever struck him low. He returned to the squad the next season drained of vitality and vigour. The touch was still there, a glint of steel amidst the rust. He got a renewed contract, largely because Mark Robins, his mentor through the youth and reserves, took over from Alan Knill and kept faith in the potential he’d seen over the years.

In Robins’ first full season, he was mainly a substitute, spending a month on loan at Burton in an effort to toughen him up. As the number of (albeit brief) appearances racked up, the optimism at the economy with which he controlled the ball became increasingly burdened by the frustration of the ease with which he was eased out of possession by every defender he faced. More and more he seemed a callow youth in a man’s game.

The same story was true of the next season, and most of the one after that. He’d been working on his physique in Brendan Ingle’s boxing gym, we were told, but the most average of fourth division defenders could brush him aside apparently at will. A flash, like the incisive cut inside and curling shot that earned an away win at Rochdale, would illuminate the mediocrity, but the spark never ignited a more substantial fire.

And then, in the last couple of months of the season before last, he went on loan to Exeter, returning in time for the play-off campaign. He missed a sitter away in the away leg of the semi-final, but there was an air of menace about him, the reticent teenager abandoning his bedroom to take on the world. At Wembley, he stood out. Willing, determined, he created opportunities and took his chances.

He took his time to get going this season, having suffered a broken foot in pre-season training, but the new-found steel was there. John McCombe, the sort of defender who regularly bottled him up, found himself clattered by an elbow in one of their aerial battles against Port Vale and eventually had to be replaced as we won 5-0. The boy was becoming a man.

But a man for the Championship?

The ball control, the awareness, those are the attributes of a player of distinction. Yet it doesn’t feel as obvious a move as Will Hoskins’ transfer to Watford, or Alan Lee’s to Cardiff (and both those players had performed well in higher divisions before their transfers). He doesn’t have the pace or quickness of feet that distinguishes the crafty forward, nor the power or physique of the powerhouse target man. He’s no longer cowed by the prospect of physical competition, but he’s not always the winner of it. Chances in front of goal aren’t always accepted with the aplomb that his hold-up play suggest they might be. His right foot is a much less sophisticated tool than his left.

He leaves us having shown himself to be an accomplished forward in the fourth division, certainly capable of playing a league higher. The Championship is more unforgiving and his weaknesses (that lack of real pace, the absence of genuine athleticism and physique) may hide the qualities (the delicacy and crispness of touch, the awareness of space and team mates) that he unquestionably has.

There are striking similarities with the first review, very broadly speaking Taylor's a decent player but has only really performed at a consistent level for around half a season.

More worrying is perhaps the lack of physicality mooted, especially considering we've signed him, in Millen's own words, as a target-man, someone to lead the line and unsettle defenders.

It remains to be seen if the good games and the second half of last season is genuine progression that can be developed at City, or a flash in the pan. The old saying about form and class springs to mind, but let's hope the class is still in its formative years.

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