Martin O’Neill named Tendayi Darikwa in his starting line-up for the first time against Preston, as Saidy Janko dropped out of the squad.
Janko had previously started the previous five games under the Northern Irishman. O’Neill revealed after the game that he wasn’t struggling with an injury and was simply rested. It’s been an intense period of fixtures and he wants to utilise the squad at his disposal.
He told the Nottingham Post: “You do not want players to fall behind, but there is an opportunity there to get players out onto the field of play.”
In this case, there’s no doubt that Darikwa looked a little bit rusty. This is expected of a player who hasn’t featured since the 12 January. Despite this, he still played a key role in the Reds picking up their first clean sheet in 12 matches.
It remains to be seen whether O’Neill decides to bring Janko straight back into the starting line-up. Considering the Reds’ next game is against Derby County, every decision he makes in regards to his team selection could prove significant.
Good options to have
O’Neill’s options have drastically improved in recent weeks. He now seems to have two good options for every single position on the pitch. That’s certainly the case at right-back as both Janko and Darikwa are solid performers.
The main reason why Janko has been given a run in the team is due to Darikwa’s previous suspension. Darikwa was sent off against Reading in January which meant he was suspended for O’Neill’s first three games in charge. This gave Janko a chance to impress his new manager, and he was able to do just that.
Without producing any spectacular performances, Janko went about his job well and has contributed to some solid defensive displays. He’ll be disappointed to have not played against Preston, but at the same time probably welcomed a break.
Even though he has played well of late, Darikwa does arguably offer more to the side than Janko. He was able to drastically improve his game under the management of Aitor Karanka. The 27-year-old went from being a liability under Mark Warburton, to an accomplished performer under the Spaniard.
He was arguably one of the Reds’ most consistent performers at one stage. His pace allowed him to get forward regularly and give the Reds another option in the final third. Janko doesn’t seem to offer the same attacking threat.
Byram could add another option
Once West Ham United loanee Sam Byram returns from injury, the Reds will have even more depth at right-back. Despite only making three appearances for Forest, the 25-year-old looked a class above. He could’ve made a real difference this season had he been able to stay fit.
According to Paul Taylor of the Nottingham Post, Byram is likely to return from injury at some point in March. This means that he may be back at the City Ground in a matter of weeks if all goes well. If this is the case, there’s no doubt that it would significantly boost O’Neill’s options.
People asking about Sam Byram and when he will be back in action… will check with MO’N when get the chance… but last update from AK suggested he’s still a little way off. Was always likely to be around March sometime. Knee injuries take time #nffc
— Paul Taylor (@nottmtails) January 30, 2019
The Reds have had good right-backs over the years, but they’ve never had this sort of depth. If O’Neill has Janko, Darikwa and Byram to choose from in the last few months of the campaign, that can only be a good thing. The competition is only likely to push the trio further and improve them as players.
With the latest instalment of the East Midlands Derby on the horizon, both Janko and Darikwa will be desperate to be named in the starting line-up.