Often Partisan

Garry O’Connor

One of the biggest questions raised so far from Blues’ tour of Hong Kong and China has been the ongoing squad status of Garry O’Connor. After scoring two goals in as many friendlies, his supporters have found their voices again and are once again clamouring for his return to the first team squad.

With a strike rate of 9 league goals in 49 league appearances for Birmingham City, and 12 goals in a total of 56 appearances in all over the last three seasons, Garry O’Connor can hardly be called prolific. Injury hasn’t helped him either, as O’Connor hasn’t made a first team appearance sine October of last year due to requiring two seperate hip operations. With this in mind, many feel justified in saying that O’Connor barely deserved a new contract, let alone a chance in the first team.

The problem Blues have though is that we are not over-endowed with goalscorers; for example Cameron Jerome was top scorer last season with eleven and I think he will do very well to match that this year. Nikola Zigic, despite his international pedigree and his undoubted class is untried in the Premiership, and then after him you have James McFadden (who, with 13 goals in 78 league appearances has a worse strike rate than O’Connor), and Kevin Phillips who is 37 years old on Sunday. It could be argued that most of McFadden’s appearances saw him played on the left flank, but even with that taken into account, he’s never been anything close to prolific. With these statistics in mind, for me Garry O’Connor has to be considered as a squad player – at least until we sign another two top strikers.

I’ve seen it said that O’Connor has no stand out attributes; and whilst I agree that he has no real pace, and isn’t overly prolific at winning headers, I think many people underestimate his finishing prowess. Take the goal against Beijing Guoan. Yes, it was against what appeared to be a poor team, on a poor pitch, but there are some things you can take from it. When Jerome struck the first chance, he hit it far too close to the keeper, and the keeper blocked it fairly easy. However, O’Connor took his chance well, hitting it across the keeper and making it difficult for him to stop. Jerome, for all his eleven goals last season (and I admit I do like him a lot anyway) isn’t a natural finisher, whereas I believe O’Connor is. On the rare occasion he’s been fully fit in the first team, O’Connor has shown he can hit the back of the onion bag. If you cast your mind back to the 2-0 home defeat of Wolves a season and a half ago, O’Connor ripped their defence apart; the second goal was purely because of O’Connor’s presence scaring the defence and the goalkeeper and he slotted it home with aplomb.

Now O’Connor is supposed to be fitter than ever, I don’t think giving him a six month contract is going to hurt anyone. I don’t envisage him as a starter straight off, even if we don’t make another forward signing – but when the inevitable injury comes to a frontman I think he’ll be a capable backup for a couple of games at least. Maybe, if he can get a goal on his return to the first team his confidence will lift and it will lead to a few more. What’s important right now for O’Connor is to keep working hard in the friendlies, keep scoring goals and keep his fitness. I fear another fitness breakdown for him will certainly end his Blues career, if not his career in the top flight entirely.

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