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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Will Wood be All White on the night?

The recent signing of Chris Wood on loan from West Brom for the rest of the season was seen as something of a coup for City boss Derek McInnes. 
After all, Wood had just completed a successful loan spell at Birmingham where he scored eleven goals in all competitions for the Blues, who were believed to be trying to entice him back for a further spell, whilst Portsmouth were trying to off load Dave Kitson to accommodate the young Kiwi.

An impressive spell on the South Coast at Brighton last season, where he helped them to the League One title with eight goals in 22 starts also bodes well and, at just 20 years old, he's got everything to prove.

Tall, strong men born in Auckland don't often make it into football, but Wood has been living the dream in England for nearly four years now, attempting to join an exclusive club of players from New Zealand to make the grade on these shores.  Rory Fallon and Chris Killen have had good careers, whilst Ryan Nelson has served Blackburn tremendously well in the Premier League, but there's every chance this is a prospect who might just out-do them all and become, in a breath, the most famous player ever to pull on the shirt for the All Whites (yes, really!).

Wood was West Brom's Young Player of the Year in their promotion season of 2009-10 and memorably came close to a famous winner against Italy at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when New Zealand shocked the Azzurri in securing a 1-1 draw.

His performance at Ashton Gate in Derek McInnes' first game in charge clearly left a lasting impression on the Scotsman and Birmingham fans were, on the whole, sorry to see him go.  Their exciting Europa League challenge peaked 'In Bruges' where more than 5,000 fans from England's second city travelled the short distance to Belgium's second city and saw Wood become an instant hero when, after stepping off the bench, he scored a late, late winner in the 10th minute of injury-time which put the club in a strong position to qualify.

Wood firing the winner in Belgium

It wasn't to be, but few tributes to Wood on Twitter the day he arrived in Bristol failed to mention that moment and is clearly a memory that will live long in the hearts.

City's new Corporate Manager, Oli Barton (@OliBarton) is uniquely placed to comment on Wood, having himself arrived at the club from Birmingham in the same week.

I asked him to give me his opinion on the 6'2" striker, and he believes Wood is a good signing.  He also feels it's a great indication of the ambitions at the club as rejected that return to promotion-chasing Birmingham City to come to Ashton Gate.  The disgruntled view from the Midlands was that he wasn't getting starts with them so wanted to go somewhere he's play every week.  Time may tell which view is more accurate.

Wood was West Brom's Young Player of the Season in 2009-10

Oli added "With International, European and Championship experience Chris will bring us a strong presence up front as he is a tough striker to defend against, holding up the ball extremely well and finding himself in the right places for the ball to fall to him.  Chris makes good off-the-ball runs which create goal-scoring opportunities for himself and space for others to run into. 

His goals at Birmingham City in the Championship and Europa League were generated from this quality.  Chris is good in the air and bringing the ball under control."

Birmingham fan Sam Fowler concurs with much of this, specifically highlighting his ability to hold the ball up.

What Wood's signing does is send a couple of signals out about McInnes' intentions. 

Firstly, it is surely, sadly, the end of the road for Jon Stead at City.  One of the key reasons relegation was avoided last time around, Stead looked like he was going to settle in the West having spent most of his career moving on from season to season.  However recent injuries mean he's never had a chance to impress the new manager and clearly hasn't done enough on the training pitch to convince McInnes another tall front-man wasn't required.  It wouldn't be a surprise to see him head back to home town club Huddersfield to boost their promotion challenge.

Secondly it indicates a change in tactics.  City have rarely ventured too far from the centrally-strong 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 formation since McInnes arrived and this set-up has certainly borne fruit.  However, Wood was thrown instantly into the fray at Brighton to play alongside Nicky Maynard and although the performance was poor it seems unlikely with his lack of pace that a solus role up-front would be considered, particularly in home matches where the onus is on City to attack.

What it will also do is require the midfield to break more quickly, something none seem particularly suited to do.  Marvin Elliott looks most likely to benefit from Wood's signing.  Often the first man to get forward, considering opportunities should be plentiful he should get some shooting practice in from 25 yards.

It will be interesting to see whether the tactics change.  McInnes has generally set City up to play a fast, pressing style which utilises the three central midfielders to the maximum with neat passing and possession football.  The temptation to chuck the ball forward quickly has been largely eradicated whilst Maynard was up-front on his own, and the back four should be reminded that this isn't Plan A again now there's a big man to aim for.

However it happens, if Wood can lead the line and score the goals that help to keep City in the Championship he'll be doing himself, and the club, the biggest favour possible.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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