It’s time to recognise James Husband is more than capable of playing at centre-back for Blackpool

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It’s about time more respect was placed on James Husband’s name.

 

That’s not to say Blackpool fans don’t recognise the defender’s ability or the contribution he’s made during his two-and-a-half years with the club. Because they do.

But does he get the credit he deserves?

The 27-year-old has made 81 appearances in tangerine – more than any other current player in the Pool squad – since making the move to Bloomfield Road, initially on loan during the summer of 2019.

After making the move permanent during the January 2020 transfer window, Husband has been a regular in the first-team.

The Leeds-born defender is predominantly a left-back, but that’s where we get ourselves into some murky waters.

He’s shown he’s more than capable of playing on the left-hand side of a back three, as he often did during Simon Grayson’s brief tenure.

Husband produced a superb display at centre-back during Saturday's draw against QPR

Husband produced a superb display at centre-back during Saturday’s draw against QPR

But, for some bizarre reason, he’s almost been written off as a centre-back, which I struggle to get my head around.

It’s almost as if the two red cards at the start of last season are etched in peoples’ minds and they’re simply unable to forget about them, conveniently forgetting the improvements he’s made in his game since then.

After Michael Nottingham was swiftly moved out of the Pool side at the start of the promotion-winning 2020/21 season, Husband was the man to take his place, partnering Marvin Ekpiteta in the centre of defence.

The switch happened in the third game of the season, the 2-0 away defeat to Gillingham.

After a dreadful first-half, Nottingham lasted just seven minutes of the second period, the now Accrington Stanley man replaced by Husband. At the time, Demetri Mitchell was playing at left-back.

The following game is where it all went wrong. Husband started in the centre alongside Ekpiteta during the 3-2 defeat to Lincoln City.

The Seasiders were leading 2-1 with barely 10 minutes to go, but the game flipped on its head when Hubby was shown a straight red for pulling down Brennan Johnson, who had got the wrong side of him.

He returned to the fold for the 1-1 draw at Crewe and did little wrong in a game Neil Critchley’s side dominated.

Pool’s head coach, as he so often does, kept faith with the defender for the following outing, the 1-0 home defeat to Charlton Athletic.

The former Norwich City and Middlesbrough man endured a horror show, receiving a straight red card inside the opening 60 seconds for a foul on Omar Bogle.

Again, it was a case of the forward getting in behind him and resorting to a pretty desperate foul in a struggling attempt to make up for his mistake.

Context is key here.

At the time, the Seasiders were in the midst of a dreadful run of form, losing six of their opening nine games.

There had been a big turnover of players during the summer and the squad were still getting to grips with Critchley’s style of play.

Initially, Pool started the campaign with a high-pressing approach which included a high line, which caused Husband problems. It was only natural he would take some time to get to grips with it.

Of course, picking up two red cards in just four league games was always going to attract criticism. Husband knew that.

But does that mean he should be completely written off and never picked to play there again? Absolutely not, because that’s not the way to develop and improve players and thankfully Critchley kept faith.

It’s clear the Blackpool boss has complete trust in Hubby, whether he plays him at left-back or in the centre.

Towards the back end of last season, with injuries to the likes of Ekpiteta, Dan Ballard and Daniel Gretarsson mounting up, Husband was thrown back in there and guess what? He was excellent.

His true position first and foremost will always be left-back, he’s demonstrated that in recent weeks with some stellar displays. He was like a man possessed at Bramall Lane the other week.

But when he’s picked to play in the centre, as he was against QPR on Saturday in the absence of injured Richard Keogh, perhaps certain fans should have a bit more confidence in him?

“F***!,” one Pool fan tweeted in response to Saturday’s team news. “Husband is never a centre half!”

The same poster went on to say: “Three players on the bench who are more natural at centre half than James Husband. Why is Gretarsson not playing?”

Predictably, Husband went on to deliver a superb performance in front of the TV cameras to silence his doubters.

He also had a direct impact on the game, playing the pinpoint forward ball – an underrated part of his game – that Jordan Gabriel ran onto before being brought down by the keeper, leading to the penalty which Gary Madine dispatched.

Speaking of Madine, he’s by far and away Blackpool’s most effective player when it comes to aerial duels won per game, with a ridiculously high average of 4.7.

But Husband sits fourth on that list with 2.5, putting him behind Ekpiteta (3.5) and Keogh (2.6).

Given Hubby is 5ft 10ins, that’s seriously impressive. Keogh is 6ft 2ins and Ekpiteta is 6ft 4ins.

While Husband had his hands full with Steven Fletcher against Stoke City the other night, after Keogh hobbled off injured, he more than held his own and remained competitive throughout.

Looking at some of the other key defensive stats Husband, who is one of the club’s longest serving players, is rated fifth within the Blackpool squad for interceptions and third for clearances.

He also tops the list for average passes per game, which is an increasingly important part of how Blackpool play their football with their build-up from the back.

No member of the Blackpool squad has made more appearances for the club than Husband. There’s a reason for that. He’s reliable and consistent, but also a bloody good player.

So what does all this mean? Should Husband start every game at centre-back? No, that’s not what I’m arguing.

When Ekpiteta and Keogh are fit and available, they’re the first-choice centre-backs and rightfully so.

But when one isn’t available for whatever reason and Husband is entrusted with replacing them, don’t moan about it. He deserves better than that.