The Rams players left the pitch on Tuesday to a standing ovation; despite “only” drawing 1-1 at home to Barnsley, each player had given every ounce of energy in a great effort that saw the Rams have 26 attempts on goal. The following day, a couple of Rams fans felt the urge to tweet Theo Robinson to tell him how rubbish he was. Not only is this the worst possible way of “supporting” a club and a completely crap thing to do by any standards; it was in my view wholly unjustified. However, although there’s no doubt that Theo is amongst one of the hardest working players we’ve had in recent years, it is fair to say that he does divide opinion.
To look at the merits or otherwise of Theo, its probably best to look at what he’s not. Let’s be clear on the first point – he’s not the £1m+ marquee striker the club and fans have been talking about – Tyson and Maguire were far more significant investments financially. He’s also not a target man. He’s not a player who has scored 20+ goals a season and he’s not an old pro who is bringing experience to the team. Yes, I’ve stated the obvious here but these things are the kind of
expectations people have of him.
Taking the target man issue, at 5′ 9″, Theo isn’t what you’d describe as a big man, yet initially paired with the smaller Jamie Ward, Theo would be the one piling in for the first ball. When playing as the lone striker, its the same story and even when paired with Steve Davies, Theo is the often the one making the challenge in contrast to Davies’ less energetic technique of trying to buy a free-kick. Close control isn’t Theo’s main asset but does he hide if it bounces off him? Does he hell, he flies straight in for the next one.
In fact, Theo personifies the expression “first line of defence”. A team will spend half the match without the ball and the importance of what you do when not in possession cannot be understated. Theo is rarely caught with his hands on his hips but will be constantly chasing down defenders, making it difficult to play out of defence, forcing the rushed pass, or forcing a throw-in in the opposition half.
In his “super sub” role, this goes to another level against tired defenders and two examples stick in the mind. Swansea at home last season in our first home win in months – a long ball was punted forward and Ashley Williams ran across to chest the ball down and go again – Theo sprinted across, leapt in for the header and Williams put the ball into touch deep in the Swans half. Thank you very much. Birmingham at home this season, 2-1 up and around the 90 minute mark, an over-hit Rams pass is going out for a Brum goal kick, Theo shows remarkable pace and agility to keep the ball in before Stephen Carr whacks the ball into the North Stand for a Rams corner. The ball remains in the corner for most of injury time.
It would suffice to say that pre-Theo, we would have been under the cosh within seconds in both situations.
Theo is raw, there’s no doubt. Clough’s plan in the summer was for him to be a squad member who would hopefully develop and not be an immediate first team choice. However, with Tyson injured and Maguire not picked, he’s forced his way into team. Goals aren’t a major problem this year, so why the problem with Theo? (in fact Theo didn’t play in the only game we didn’t score – Coventry – and came off the bench to score in our only defeat – Burnley)
I’ve heard Theo compared to Izale McLeod. I don’t think it was meant favourably but its not a bad one to be honest. McLeod was pacy and erratic before sharpening up and being sold for £2m (by MK Dons). Now, I’m not saying Theo is about to become a £2m player but you can learn composure and decision making to some degree, whereas you can’t learn pace. However, for Theo to properly flourish, he needs to feel confident – and he won’t get that from poisonous messages on Twitter. We also don’t want him to hide – another danger of giving your own players stick.
At the moment, the Rams team is more than the sum of its parts. One of those parts is that Theo runs his nuts off, makes challenges, hassles defenders and carries the ball forward at pace – whether it be for 90 minutes or 10 minutes. We’ve had a start we can only dream about and there’s every reason to be happy. The Forest match was unbelievable (with many giving Theo MOM), so it should be good vibes all around shouldn’t it?
Opinions on Theo can probably be best summed up by a bloke I was sat next to on Tuesday, as a knackered Theo misplaced a pass, he stood and screamed “you’re fucking useless”. Two minutes later, he was giving him a standing ovation and chanting “THEO, THEO”. Schizophrenic twat.
Leicester on Saturday will probably be our toughest test yet and like Forest, we need a shift from Theo to work the channels in his usual selfless, thankless way. He’s not Pele, he’s not Chris Porter. He’s just Theo. An honest, hardworking young lad, sweating blood for the cause. So lets get behind him.