Why Adam Le Fondre Has Been the EPL's Most Effective Substitute This Season

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Why Adam Le Fondre Has Been the EPL's Most Effective Substitute This Season
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Every manager dreams of having a capable starting XI and a bench full of players who can change a game. The problem occurs when a substitute becomes so proficient he starts pressuring the manager to start him rather than bench him.

As a footballing community, we don't help. The label "super sub" is something no player wants attached to them, yet that's the exact label we attach as soon as a hero emerges from the stands.

We've seen it with Edin Dzeko, we've seen it with Marlon Harewood.

Now Adam Le Fondre has faced this problem all season, as he has become the undisputed No. 1 substitute in the English Premier League.

He has already expressed his dislike for the term (via Goal.com), telling reporters ahead of the FA Cup clash against Manchester United: "I know Solskjaer made his name as a sub, but I do not want to do that—I want to start."

That's all any player worth his salt wants to do, but the Stockport-born striker is fighting a losing battle.

He's been used rather sporadically all season long, making just nine starts as opposed to 17 appearances off the bench in the English Premier League.

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Reading hit a nice run of form during January which boosted their survival hopes, and that was largely down to the 26-year-old's performances off the bench.

To put it in perspective, Adam Le Fondre won the Barclay's Player of the Month Award without starting a single game for his club.

And yet he was so effective.

He was part of an inspired late comeback win against West Bromwich Albion, scoring the second goal in the 88th minute against Steve Clarke's side.

With his side 1-0 down at St. James' Park the following week, he scored within a minute of coming on, then bagged a second, match-winning goal six minutes later.

But still, Brian McDermott didn't start the former Rotherham player, and at 2-0 down at home to Chelsea, Le Fondre inspired his greatest comeback yet—two goals in three minutes to draw level with the reigning European champions at the death.

Reading fans started questioning why they bother watching the first 70 minutes of any game, as their side obviously only start playing in the final quarter.

After scoring five goals in 68 minutes, McDermott had no choice but to start his "super sub."

He did, against Manchester United, and in a strange way it couldn't have gone any better for the gaffer.

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The FA Cup tie was free pass. The Red Devils were widely expected to win, so Reading could travel north, match Sir Alex Ferguson's 4-4-2 with their own and give Le Fondre the shot he's been waiting for.

Unfortunately for Le Fondre he didn't score, nor have any truly telling impact on the game.

And the reason, of course, is simple.

There's a good explanation for the unbelievable amount of goals "Alfie" scored in the lower leagues, and it's due to his style of play.

He's an old-school, fox-in-the-box striker who knows how to stick in the back of the net. Think Michael Owen, think Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But Le Fondre has a lot of catching up to do after being stuck in League Two for too long. He hasn't developed abilities in other areas, and that's why McDermott would so frequently look elsewhere.

Can Le Fondre take advantage of a tired defence, and, with an extra spring in his step, beat his man to ball and find the corner? Yes. But can he run the channels, hold the ball up and provide incisive runs for a full 90 minutes against a fresh defence? Not yet.

Le Fondre has a lot of untapped potential and he shows signs of being able to do all these things, he just needs to work very hard in the offseason to brush up those skills.

Until he is able to provide a full complement of services, he can't be seen as a viable starter. Reading don't have the midfield ability to play a 4-4-2 formation and they can't rely on him as a lone striker.

The conundrum is a horrible one for McDermott, but as long as he can manage Alfie's expectations he knows he's got a game-changer he can throw on at any time.

 

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