Scouting Report: Nicky Ajose – You Better? You Bet!

2016/2017 stats (for Charlton Athletic & Swindon Town in all competitions): 3,274 minutes, 38 starts, 5 sub appearances; 12 goals, 3 assists.

Bury acted extremely quickly to fill the gaping chasm left by James Vaughan’s transfer to Sunderland by acquiring the services of Nicky Ajose on loan for the third time and on this occasion from fellow League One outfit Charlton Athletic. The Nigerian underage international played no part in yesterday’s challenging friendly encounter with Huddersfield Town, owing chiefly to a relative lack of pre-season training in comparison to his new peers, which is a little puzzling.

Ajose needs little (re)introduction to the bulk of the Shakers’ faithful. His first loan spell was back in the promotion-winning 2010/2011 season, where as ever, a degree of scepticism awaited his arrival for the campaign from Manchester United given that he hadn’t tasted any senior football at the time. Those fears were quickly assuaged under the stewardship of Alan Knill (and later Richie Barker), with the Bury-born youngster forming a deadly partnership with Ryan Lowe, amassing over 40 goals between them with the former notching 13.

Of course, his exploits attracted interest in higher echelons than BL9 and he signed for Sir Alex Ferguson’s son Darren at the helm of Peterborough United. However, his three-year stint with The Posh was largely forgettable and the majority of his playing time confined to further loan spells; the latter of these in 2012/2013 was back at Gigg Lane under very different circumstances. Barker was long gone and in his place was Kevin Blackwell, who either couldn’t or wouldn’t make the best use of Ajose’s abilities as the club meandered to relegation back to the fourth tier and in well-documented financial trouble.

For the following season, he was sent out yet again on loan but seemed to find his niche at Swindon Town, impressing enough that he was recalled after six months back to Cambridgeshire and he added seven further goals in the latter stages of the campaign to take his personal total for 2013/2014 to 17. Chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s widely known policy of transfer listing any player in the last year of their contract came into effect that summer and Ajose was no exception, joining Leeds United in a cut-price deal.

His time at Elland Road tumultuous; the revolving door of managers that season badly damaged the club’s reputation, with the finger of blame squarely pointed at the feet of hugely controversial owner Massimo Cellino. By November and on their third boss of the season, it was obvious that Ajose wasn’t in Neil Redfearn’s plans and he joined Crewe Alexandra on an emergency loan deal, where even though it wasn’t his most prolific period, he at least enjoyed some semblance of structure and more importantly, sustained time on the pitch.

PMR_CRE_251114NICKY_01
A very rare sighting of Ajose in a Leeds shirt; players in the 2014/2015 season would head to training on a Monday morning wondering who would be in charge that week

On his return to The Whites, he was not given a squad number by Uwe Rösler and had his contract terminated. On the same day, he joined Swindon once more and had the most productive season of his career, finishing second behind Will Grigg by only a single league goal. Yet again, with his reputation increased, he was the subject of another transfer, this time to recently relegated Charlton Athletic for £800,000, a very high sum between two third tier teams.

In a situation that mirrored the chaos behind the scenes at Leeds, a manager under Roland Duchâtelet can be even less sure of their position than their counterparts. Results under Russell Slade had been a very mixed bag and he seemed incapable of harnessing the most of the talent at his disposal, Ajose being a prime example. Slade was sacked with The Addicks languishing in 15th place and his eventual replacement Karl Robinson’s preferred system left little room to manoeuvre for someone of his build and playstyle.

Ajose found himself back at The County Ground for the third time in his career at just 24. The Robins were no strangers to farce off the pitch last season and on it, their inexperienced side weren’t putting up too much resistance to falling through the relegation trap-door. He did manage a respectable goals to games ratio of one in three alongside the injury-prone Jonathan Obika in 2016/2017 but it was another largely forgettable year.

Now 25, he again finds himself not in favour at his parent club but can take heart that he was Bury manager Lee Clark’s preferred option to come in for Vaughan. I actually believe that the partnership he will foster with Jermaine Beckford will be better than the latter might have experienced with his old Huddersfield teammate, even though it will be a tough ask to expect Ajose to score as many… but he might not need to for it to still to be a successful campaign.

In what will prove to be a marked contrast to last term, both first choice strikers will be facing their opponents’ goal for the vast majority of a given match. Ajose’s role will be different to what Vaughan’s would have been even though a lot of the qualities they both possess are a close match; Ajose is most at home when nominally starting an attack in the left or right channel and using his close dribbling skills to take him towards the penalty area. He is also likely to sit slightly deeper than Beckford and perform more of a supporting role for both his strike partner and the inside forward he lines up closest to, which given the current situation, is anyone’s guess who that will be. However, he has the pace and positioning to also be on the end of crosses into the area and it’s understandable given his height that he latches onto low balls most effectively.

A calm finisher of shots like Ryan Lowe (who undoubtedly put the good word in for him once the Vaughan situation was resolved), he doesn’t tend to lash the ball and takes his time to place his efforts. This can be a disadvantage if marked tightly and/or there is a lack of space in the area. Under Lowe’s tutelage, expect to see Ajose flourish once again, with the added advantage that he also has a track record of providing chances for his strike partner. Make no mistake, he will be steely in his determination to put a disappointing previous season in League One behind him and he is in the right environment to do just that. His third stint in the white and royal blue could start tomorrow evening against Macclesfield Town with a 30-minute cameo and fans will be hoping to see the first glimpse of him and that it is more akin to his maiden loan spell at Bury than his second one. Time will tell but everything is in place…

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