Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
To win a league you need a deep squad. Gone are the days of 1981 where Villa topped the first division while using just fourteen players. A combination of advances in strength and conditioning technology, an increasingly fast-paced game, and an influx of managers who love nothing more than moaning about fixture congestion means that – even at our level – you’ll use at least twenty players in a title win. Gary thought our midfield needed extra protection from the stresses and strains of a compacted fixture list*, and who better to provide extra protection than someone whose name sounds a bit like sheath?
Yes, we’ve signed a lad called Max Sheaf, for whom there can only really be one joke and I’ve already exhausted it. Here’s a bit about the midfielder who will, henceforth, be known as “Johnny”.
*I see that elephant in the room. It’s over there. It’s trumpeting loud and clear about the increasing potential of the season being called off. I am, for now at least, completely ignoring it.
Despite being born in Kent (in the year 2000?!), Sheaf’s first professional club was quite a long way up the road at Hull City. He made his debut for the Tigers in May 2019 as a second-half substitute for Frazier Campbell at Ashton Gate – a game that ended in a 1-1 draw. That remains his only league appearance for the Humberside club.
In July 2019, he joined Cheltenham for what would become a season-long loan. His first professional goal came in a 7-4 (???) defeat to Newport in the FL Trophy. The first goal that we can reasonably describe as proper was the opener last January in a 3-0 win over Oldham. He then opened the scoring again the following week, this time beating Walsall 3-1.
That’s about it, really. His 20 appearances for the Robins helped them to fourth in League Two before the season was rudely interrupted, and he’s only appeared in the Papa John’s Trophy for Hull since.
It’s hard (and probably wrong) to infer too much from a career that began after GDPR came into force, but if he’s good enough for a team at the top of League Two, and he’s good enough for Gary Johnson, he’s good enough for me.
One of the benefits about writing an article like this about a midfielder is that I don’t have to choose between which goal clips I include. All of his professional goals are neatly packaged here, and soundtracked, typically, by some sort of Europop. The first, a lethal touch and finish into the bottom corner. The second, a clinical first-time finish from an unbalanced position twelve yards out. Finally, another first-time finish, this time into the top bin. They all come in front of that away end, which can only be a good sign that he might well enjoy a touch of piss-boiling. You don’t need me to describe them better than that: you can see them.
As far as I can see, everything else that comes up when you type his name in on YouTube are interviews and clips of his brother playing for Arsenal. Let’s hope his performances in Yellow can change that.
Playing Style and Where He Fits
In his brief interview on the club site, Gary said that Sheaf “gives us a great option for a few positions”. As far as I can see, though it’s hard to work out for definite, most if not all of Sheaf’s appearances for Cheltenham came somewhere in the midfield. He’s 5ft11, so wouldn’t be out of place in Asa and Adam’s combative and classy central partnership, and the quality (and position) of his goals suggest he can certainly perform well in The Lemon’s number ten slot. It’s not unfeasible, based on nothing more than very brief clips, that he could do a job out wide either. We’ll probably get a better idea tonight, assuming he makes an appearance in the trophy at Boreham Wood.
To completely contradict the first paragraph of this article, it’s important to say that I don’t think he has been solely brought in as cover or backup – this guy was a key part of a side that was nearly too good for the league above us. If I were any of our first choice midfield five I’d be looking wearily over my shoulder at Sheaf. That competition for places, in itself, should be a boost to the side going forward.
There’s no doubt that this is a good signing. Hull and Cheltenham fans alike are surprised he’s gone to a (currently) Conference club, and – while you wouldn’t expect the manager to express anything other than pleasure at a new signing – Gary Johnson admits he was “very interested” as soon as Sheaf became available and is “very pleased” to have him on board.
So, Johnny. Be good.
COYY – Matty