The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 9 of 25
When Derek McInnes took over as manager of Bristol City, the Robins were bottom of the Championship. Eight games into his reign, they have racked up four wins during that period and are now seven points clear of 24th-placed Coventry. Nicky Maynard has four goals to his name so far under McInnes. The question now, says Paul Binning, is whether Bristol City can hang onto their star striker for much longer.
Nicky Maynard (Bristol City)
“Am I ready to test myself in the Premier League? I like to think so.” — Nicky Maynard
Goalscorers are the most precious of commodities and although not highly prolific, Maynard’s Championship strike rate of 44 goals in 105 appearances for Bristol City is more than respectable. There are bigger clubs circling, so surely one would have pounced by now if most of last season hadn’t been wiped out by a serious knee injury?
Out of contract this summer, it seems inevitable that Maynard will now move on and the confidence of the player is shown by the fact that he felt no need to put pressure on the club to sell when pre-season promotion favourites West Ham and Leicester came calling ahead of this campaign. This boy is going places, and he knows it. It’s just a matter of when and with whom.
Any product of the famous Crewe Alexandra academy is worth a second look and Maynard joined the club at just seven years old, clearly learning plenty under Dario Gradi’s tutelage. Dean Ashton’s departure in 2005 led to an opening in the first team-squad. A teenage Maynard grabbed his chance when it came, scoring with his very first touch in professional football. The following season, he formed a potent partnership with Luke Varney and alerted an ever-growing number of scouts.
A striker who tends to go on runs of scoring (all his eight goals thus far this season have come in separate patches of two and then five games), it was a consecutive seven-game scoring streak at the end of the 2007/08 season that finally induced the bid Crewe were waiting for, with the west country club gambling more than £2million in the hope that he was the missing part of the jigsaw following their Premier League near-miss the previous May.
A debut hat-trick in a pre-season friendly against Royal Antwerp raised expectations sky-high but early pressure was perhaps inevitable as the young striker struggled to make the goalscoring impact such a large fee demands. What was quickly clear to the Ashton Gate faithful, however, was that this was a striker with a lot more than just goals in his locker.
Maynard’s pace is always a threat, particularly evident during regular counter-attacking as the side spent more time on the back foot in the higher division. His work-rate is not what you’d necessarily expect from a typical goalscorer either. He works across the back line endlessly, constantly putting defenders under pressure on either touchline, his trademark sliding block regularly stopping the ball being knocked forward to more advanced players. Defence really does start from the front when Maynard is on his game.
More than anything, Maynard’s touch demonstrates his potential to make it at the top level. He’s had to deal with more than his fair share of long and high balls in the past two seasons and so many are precisely controlled. Ally this with his pace and it’s easy to see how Maynard so often gains a couple of yards on many defenders at this level.
A first-minute strike at Watford on Boxing Day 2008 kick-started a run of good form for both he and the club, catapulting City up the league and raising hopes of another promotion challenge. Ultimate success was not to follow of course, but Maynard was now established. Six goals in seven games at the start of the following season was only half the story as 20 goals were amassed. Maynard isn’t a Gary Lineker-style poacher and amongst the final tally were some special strikes including one in particular at Loftus Road, where an overhead bicycle kick, again on Boxing Day, went on to win the Football League’s goal of the season.
It should also be noted that few of his goals are penalties, often a ‘hidden compartment’ within a decent goalscoring record. Indeed, Maynard strikes a surprisingly poor penalty for one who hits the ball so sweetly and he has missed a handful during his spell in Bristol. If he is guilty of anything, it is shooting too often from too far out, but he strikes the ball so cleanly and a high enough proportion go in to forgive this. Nicky Maynard will continue to attract suitors aplenty.
“I’m never going to know until I try it… I like to believe I’ve done fairly well and would like to try myself a bit higher.”
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.