Monday 17 March 2014

Wilson, Lallana, and a little bit of hope

Saturday, 8th May 2010. Into stoppage time at St. Mary's stadium, Southampton. Adam Lallana races onto a through ball, with just the goalkeeper to beat. He slots the ball home, effortlessly comfortable throughout, for his 20th goal of the season. Southampton have just gone 3-1 up against Southend on the final day of the season. But they will not be promoted to the Championship this year. Lallana is 21 years old, to turn 22 in two days.

Fast-forward to 28th April 2012. Lallana connects with fellow Englishman Rickie Lambert's knockdown at the far post to finish past goalkeeper Joe Murphy for his 13th goal of the season. Southampton have just gone 4-0 up against Coventry City on the final day of the season. They will be promoted to the Premiershup this year.

Lallana is a special case. He has been with Southampton since he was a child. He played his first game for them when he was 18, and suffered the relegation to League One in the 2008-2009 season. But he stuck with the club, earning promotion to the Premier League with the Saints, playing 227 times and becoming their captain in the process.

In a meteoric rise, Lallana even earned his first England cap in a 2-0 defeat to Chile in November 2013, with public calls for him to be a starter for the World Cup 2014 team getting louder by the day . And so they should be. He is a special talent.

Sunday, 16th March 2014. Into stoppage time at Sixfields stadium, Northampton. Callum Wilson gathers the ball on the left-flank, shrugs off two defenders and makes his way into the box. He jinks past the remaining players trying to steal the ball from him, and shapes to shoot. Inevitably, he finishes past the keeper, effortlessly comfortable throughout, for his 19th goal of the season. Coventry have just drawn 2-2 with Port Vale. It is only March, but they know they will not be promoted to the Championship this year. Wilson is 22 years old.

Like Lallana, Wilson has come to prominence in England's third-tier. Similarly to the Southampton man, Wilson was not a wonder-kid; he didn't burst onto the scene as a 16 year old, promising much with precocious talent. He paid his dues on loan, and there was a time when it seemed he might not make it at Coventry before he surprised many with his goal-scoring exploits and all-round play this season.

Perhaps most importantly of all to Sky Blues fans, like Lallana is for Saints, Wilson is a local boy. Born in Coventry, he made his professional debut aged 17 and has been with the club ever since. Rave reviews and a penchant for scoring have alerted the vultures of the Championship and beyond, all eager to feed off of the starving, dehydrated traveller that is Coventry, lost in the desert of Northampton.

The 2013-2014 campaign has given us little to smile about, but Wilson's emergence and at-present commitment to the cause has been a blessing, and his goals have given many fans hope. In times of great drought this season, Wilson has been a well of goals, the water of the game. It is easy to die stranded in the desert, but when you have water, then there is always a chance of survival.

The fear is that after this season, Wilson and other key performers will be unceremoniously torn from our tired fingers. Football's eternal Catch-22: you need your players to perform to stay clear of relegation. But to perform, they run the risk of being bought by other clubs, meaning they can't perform for you any more. He signed a new contract earlier this season, but Coventry fans have long known to be wary about 'contracts'.

Wilson is the same age as Adam Lallana was on that day in May 2010, against Southend. The similarities between the two are plain at present. What is less clear is whether we will be able to draw more parallels in the future.

Fast-forward to May 2017. Into stoppage time at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Callum Wilson is sent through on goal, his speed leaving defenders in his wake. He finishes into the bottom left corner, effortlessly comfortable throughout, for his 30th goal of the season. Coventry City will be promoted to the Premiership this year. Wilson is 25 years old. He has been with Coventry for the whole of his career to date.

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