I read comments from Eastleigh and Bournemouth fans when we signed him. Most of the sensible lads, who appeared to know their football, said: ‘’If he stays fit, he is some player’’.
His Rovers career was a bit stop and start in the early days, but when I saw him play I was always impressed. At right-back he looked quick and composed and one of those players who doesn’t have to make last-ditch tackles because his positional sense was spot on. Then I read rumours on the bullshit boards of an injury problem, which meant he was unable to play two games in a week, and which at one point were ‘career-threatening’. A month ago he was out in the cold, being mentioned among at least a trio of signings who were being tagged as DC’s transfer flops. So, if ever a player came out of nowhere to become a pivotal part of a team, it’s Joe Partington.
I didn’t see the first two games he played in front of the back four but amid the outpouring of love for Ellis, which by all accounts has been well-deserved, I read some comments which intrigued me. So I went to the game against Southend United this weekend to see what all the fuss was about. And Partington played a key role in what was an impressive victory. It must be three years now since DC first declared we needed a defensive-minded midfield player. As the al-Qadis have been big on sound bites but sadly lacking in blank cheques Darrell has been left with no options in that department. As much as we all love Linesy, he is excellent going forward when the game opens up, for example when we are two goals ahead or in the ascendancy for long periods of time, but pinned back in his own half against the better teams, he struggles. Ollie Clarke is in the team because you need eight or nine boys who always give you a solid seven out of ten, leaving room for the flair players to do their stuff in the final third. And Sercombe is always a threat going forward with his pace, trickery and vision. So opting for Partington in front of the back four was yet another DC master-stroke.
‘Parts’ did play in central midfield in his early days so we shouldn’t be overly surprised by the way he has taken to his new job, but he was a colossus at the weekend. Watching him prowl the areas in front of Locks and Sweeney was a sight. He was obviously told to sit, and sit he did. He stepped forward to close down Southend’s midfield players when they were enjoyed decent spells in the middle of the pitch, and chased them down when they tried to move the Rovers midfield around to create space. He also gave Rovers fullbacks the confidence to advance forward, safe in the knowledge there was an extra man behind them who could sweep up if they lost the ball going forward. He made life easy for Locks and Sweeney in terms of stopping the opposition midfield slinging the ball to their wide players to chuck in troublesome crosses. Many people like to suggest the reason for Rover’s victories is always due to poor performances by the other team, but that is disingenuous on this occasion, and does a disservice to the boys in blue and white quarters, Partington in particular.
Having five at the back worked brilliantly and try as they might Southend could not get through. When their midfield players got the ball and lifted their heads to go for a killer ball you could see them staring into the eyes of Partington – and opting to go backwards rather than forwards. It will be interesting to see if DC goes for the same shape at the weekend, because it didn’t seem to affect our chances of causing problems at the other end. If anything it gave Rovers the upper hand because they were so strong at the back, that it gave them the perfect platform and the security at the back to enable the front players to wreak havoc. Let’s hope for another parting of the attacking waves at Preistfield this Saturday.