Statistics, they say, don’t lie in football, and after scoring 25 goals in consecutive seasons in the Championship, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has struggled to recapture that form in the Premier League. After starting out in his youth with Manchester United, Ebanks-Blake served his apprenticeship in the Championship with both Plymouth Argyle and Wolves. He excelled in the division as his strength, pace and composure in front of goal helped Mick McCarthy’s side to promotion last season. This year, his fortunes could not be so different as he has not scored from open play in eleven Premier League starts, with one solitary penalty to his name. So is he just not good enough for the English top division?
For strikers, it is not as clear cut as that. There can be many things that can determine a forwards success in a season. Service must be good, fitness must be at its optimum, skill level must be top notch and above all else, confidence must be high. A few of these things have not been present for Ebanks-Blake this season. When you are starting off in a new league, the last thing you need is to get injured, but that’s just what the striker did against West Ham in August and he was out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury. It certainly didn’t help him settle into his new surroundings against higher quality defences. The next factor is service: the facts are that a striker in the Premier League is not going to get the amount of chances and consequently goals that he would do in the league below. Wolves have only scored 17 goals this season, and it’s not just down to a goal-shy strike force but due to a lack of creativity in some games.
In my opinion Ebanks-Blake does have the attributes to succeed in the Premier League for although he is not the tallest at 5ft 10, he is strong and powerful and has a fair bit of pace. At 23 he also has time on his side and patience maybe required to get the best out of him. Even though he is not scoring at the moment, he is still getting into positions for scoring opportunities, something that manager Mick McCarthy is fully aware of:
If you look at some of the games, Sylvan was denied by a great save against Burnley from a header and Petr Cech made an awesome save off him at Chelsea. If he’d have got those two goals, things would be looking a lot different. Sylvan – and Kevin Doyle – are both goalscorers.
The real problem for the player at the moment though is confidence. Confidence is essential in any position on the football field but it is especially vital as a striker or as a goalkeeper. Composure in front of goal can vanish in an instance if you are on a barren spell, something which was apparent in his glaring miss early on in the match against Wigan last week. It is something that Ebanks-Blake is learning to deal with for the first time in his career after hitting the ground running at both Plymouth and Wolves. McCarthy recognises the problem:
He’s been at it and playing well for the last few games. It’s really difficult for him. He desperately wants to score, I’m sure the disappointment rests heavily on him. I don’t talk to him much but I can tell it does. You can see the disappointment etched in his face. Scoring goals has been his lifeblood. I’m sure he’s at a loss to understand it because he’d have scored that chance on Saturday in the Championship. You wonder the longer it goes on, is it coming? Does it come? I know it will come back but it does take time.
In the Championship, he would be scoring goals by now, more opportunities in front of goal with lesser quality of defences would mean he would have ended his goal drought, but in the Premier League he will find it a lot harder to do so. The facts are that McCarthy can’t afford a misfiring frontline if he wants the club to stay in the Premier League and if Ebanks-Blake wants to stay in the gold of Wolves and keep that number 9 on his back, he has to step to the plate and get over his current lack of confidence fast.