Signed as cover for Liam Kelly, it has become apparent during his loan spell at the club that Matty James is a different kind of midfielder to our captain. A tidy, technical central midfield player who can help the team recycle possession efficiently, James, however, isn’t the physical enforcer presence in the centre of the park that Liam Kelly is. While this means that the two can operate in tandem, the issue for James for much of his loan period has been that, with Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer on the books, he hasn’t provided enough of a difference to what we already have to make an impact on the team.
When played in a midfield two, James’ lack of physicality and mobility has left the defence vulnerable. He has been more effective in a midfield three, where he has looked like he can get the team forward and while getting around and into the opposition penalty area himself. However, playing a midfield three necessitates taking Callum O’Hare out of the side and it’s arguable whether James is more of a creative and goalscoring threat than O’Hare. Once again, it goes back to the point as to whether we needed to sign Matty James – despite him having played fairly well for us – or whether that loan spot could have been better utilised in one of the areas of the squad where we are lacking.
The rest of the season for Matty James, as well Mark Robins, will be about demonstrating just why it was felt he was needed at the club. This is a young team low on Championship experience and there may be intangible qualities on and off the pitch that James brings. We have also seen at times that James can improve our composure and threat on the ball. It’s just about finding a role for him in the side that makes the best of the quality that he offers without putting a strain on the physical side of the game, where he appears to struggle.