Knill ready to turn to lively forward Azeez in bid to stop losing sequence
Two goals in his first three games, the first of those a substitute appearance, represents a pretty good start for Torquay United's on-loan forward Ade Azeez, but Gulls manager Alan Knill believes there is much more to come from the Charlton Athletic teenager.
Azeez is an almost certain starter as United try to halt a three-game losing run at home to Mansfield Town today.
Perhaps the biggest frustration is that neither of his goals so far has helped to produce a result for Torquay – he scored within four minutes of entering the fray in the 2-1 defeat at Newport County recently and he gave United the lead in their 3-2 loss at Wycombe Wanderers last Saturday.
"Ade has got attributes that everyone can see," said Knill. "He can play anywhere along the front line because he's got great pace, but we are trying to develop the other parts of his game. He can also put the ball in the back of the net, but to play higher he needs something more than that, and that's what we are working on."
At 19, Azeez may be the youngest player in United's starting XI today, but that's only if Knill resists the temptation to play Jak McCourt in midfield. McCourt, 18, joined other loanees Azeez and defender Anthony O'Connor at Plainmoor last week, and made a promising League debut off the bench at Wycombe.
O'Connor, from Blackburn, is pencilled in for a return after international duty with Eire Under-21s, alongside Krystian Pearce at centre-back.
Knill has a real decision to make in midfield, where skipper Lee Mansell, Damon Lathrope, Nathan Craig and now McCourt are all in contention. You could add summer signing Ben Harding soon, as the former Northampton player is close to fitness after a foot injury.
"We took Jak from Leicester, and he went on last Saturday and did pretty well," said Knill. "With Lee, Damo and Nathan there, we are OK in centre mid. You need a competitive squad all the time. You don't want people to feel too comfortable in their shirts.
"If I'm bringing someone in to the club, you don't bring them in to sit on the bench. I am bringing them to play and make us better. But they have to prove in training, and maybe off the bench to start with, that they are good enough to start.
"We watched Jak McCourt several times, and spoke to plenty of people about him, and everyone thinks he's ready to play League football."
Twenty-second place is never a comfortable spot at any time of the season, and United badly need to avoid a fourth successive defeat today.
"Results don't lie," said Knill, "but we have been in every game this season, bar maybe Fleetwood away [4-1].
"We dominated the first half against York a couple of weeks ago, but the only thing missing was a goal. We were definitely competitive at Wycombe and scored two, but if you score two away from home , you've got to come away with something, and we didn't. We are looking to turn 'could've' and 'should've' into a 'did'."
The news that Harding and defender Aaron Downes could be back from injuries in another week has cheered United, and winger Billy Bodin and young goalkeeper Conor Thompson are back from international duty.
It is a good job that Thompson is available, because senior goalkeeper Michael Poke has had yet another setback on his road to recovery from a torn thigh muscle.
Several times Poke has resumed training, and he was even on the bench at Wycombe last weekend. Knill revealed: "Michael wasn't 100 per cent, and if anything had happened to Martin Rice, we would probably have had to take him in, give him an injection and then sent him on.
"The original tear was 20cm long and quite deep and, although he can do most things and was kicking it well in a training game the other day, he says his leg doesn't feel right, so it looks as if he'll be another couple of weeks."
Mansfield, last season's Conference champions, are back in the League after a five-year absence, although United did win an FA Cup-tie 1-0 at Field Mill a couple of years ago.
Torquay United (from): Rice, C Thompson; Tonge, Pearce, O'Connor, Nicholson, Cruise, Azeez, Mansell, Lathrope, Craig, McCourt, Chapell, Hawley, Benyon, Bodin, Cameron, McKenzie, Hutchings.
Unavailable: Harding, Downes, Poke (all injured), N Thompson, Yeoman (both out on loan).