October 5, 2012 by mapperleystag1
Out of the vast squad that Mansfield Town manager Paul Cox has at his disposal, there is probably not another player who polarises opinion quite to the extent that midfielder Anthony Howell does. Many supporters of the Stags fail to see what he adds to the side in terms of technical ability and composure on the ball. Their frustration is often exacerbated by the fact that they believe Howell regularly keeps out more talented players, who in their opinion would provide greater quality in the centre of midfield. In short, critics of Howell argue that he is simply a non-league clogger, a hindrance to Mansfield’s ambitions of promotion rather than one of the solutions.
By contrast, a sizeable proportion of Stags supporters claim that Howell is simply misunderstood. Whilst his midfield counterparts Adam Murray and Gary Roberts are generally held in higher esteem, due mainly to their work rate, endeavour and greater quality in possession, the work of Howell tends to go unnoticed by many fans. His supporters argue that his ability to break-up play, his physical attributes in both boxes and his tough tacking ensures that he is a key, if perhaps somewhat unrefined, component to the Mansfield side.
The split between Mansfield fans over Anthony Howell outlined above is not a new development, but one that has been discussed for a significant period of time, including the majority of last season. However, this division amongst supporters was not evident when Howell signed for the club in the summer of last season. Quite understandably, there was a consensus amongst fans that the signing of a player who had not overly impressed at Alfreton Town in the Conference North, and had already had a brief, unsuccessful stay at Field Mill under David Holdsworth, was not of the required calibre for a side who were seeking a return to the Football League. For many, this scepticism has remained. On the other hand, Howell’s performances in many games last season won over a large proportion of supporters, who appreciated the role that he had in the side that went on a long unbeaten run in the second half of the campaign. His performance early in the season at home to Newport County, when the Stags won 5-0, was rightly applauded. Similarly, his pivotal role in scoring two goals against near-neighbours Alfreton, including a bullet from 25 yards, was unaminously praised by Stags supporters, Cox and opposition manager, and former employer Nicky Law. Nevertheless, some still sighted Howell’s glaring errors at home to Telford and away at Wrexham as reasons why other options in midfield should have been explored. More recently, Howell has come under close scrutiny for his lacklustre performances this season, where on the whole he has failed to reach the heights of his impressive displays last year. As a result, the debate over Howell’s position in the Mansfield side has not subsided but intensified.
Played in a holding midfield role, where his sole responsibility is to concentrate on the dirty, unfashionable side of the game, Anthony Howell is a crucial member of the Mansfield Town side. His defensive qualities and athletic prowess allows his midfield team-mates more time on the ball, as well as providing a substantial buffer for the defence. In many games last season, Howell was responsible for keeping the midfield shape solid and was an excellent partner for Murray, who was able to press and harry the opposition without fear of leaving the centre of the pitch exposed. Moreover, Howell’s underappreciated ability to threaten from set-pieces, especially from Exodus Geohaghon’s missile long throws, meant that he was a surprising source of goals in the second half of last season. In this role, it is difficult to see how criticism of Howell can be justified. However, when utilised in an attacking midfield role, or as a striker, Howell’s limitations, especially his rather agricultural use of possession and lack of composure are all-too apparent.