If everybody was fit, I have no doubts that Harry’s first choice defensive pairing would be Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate. However, with Woodgate being sighted as often as Lord Lucan this season and Ledley’s knee being as reliable as our penalty takers, Michael Dawson and Sebastian Bassong have played together more than anybody could have expected.
When Dawson arrived from Nottingham Forest as part of an £8 million deal alongside Andy Reid, it was seen as a major coup for the club. At the time, most top flight clubs had looked at Dawson but Spurs were successful in their pursuit – possibly because our deal included Reid as well.
After a slow start, Dawson is now firmly established as a fan’s favourite due to his willingness to battle and to put his body on the line for the cause. True, his passing is limited – he is too often tempted by the long ball, and he can be exposed when left one on one, but his love for the club is undeniable and he consistently does what is asked of him – to defend.
When Bassong arrived for £8 million in the summer, a new centre half was, without doubt, a necessity. Scoring on his debut against Liverpool ensured he was quickly welcomed to the club with open arms. Since then he has proven to be a reliable defender – quick over the ground, good in the air and a intuitive reader of the game.
As a pairing, they seem to work well. Both are good in the air and Bassong’s extra pace means he covers across the back four. Alongside Vedran Corluka and Benoit Assou-Ekotto they were part of a back 5, including the improved Heurelho Gomes, who kept six clean sheets in a row – nothing to be sniffed at.
Undoubtedly, Ledley is a class above the two of them, and above most defenders in the league, with his reading of the game and his defensive awareness being second-to-none. However, with his injury seeming as though it will never improve, Dawson and Bassong have vital roles to play. Add in the returning Younes Kaboul, who could prove to be an excellent re-signing, and our cover at centre half doesn’t seem as sparse as it once did.
We can all remember Didier Zokora and on occasion Tom Huddlestone playing at the heart of the defence last season. Hopefully those days of square pegs in round holes are now behind us.
Dawson and Bassong may be seen as squad players but if we are going to challenge for fourth and hope to do well in the cups then we will need our squad players. We need to have competition for places with players wanting to be in the team and being afraid of losing their place.
Competition across the squad can only be a good thing. There are not many clubs in the position to allow Robbie Keane to go out on loan. However, competition is only useful if the players coming in are good enough to improve the team. With the centre halves we have at our disposal, there doesn’t seem to be a weak link. The only thing is that none of them are is a real leader or a talker on the field – Ledley isn’t either – but he leads by example and his presence gives the team a real lift.
I for one have been delighted with how Dawson and Bassong have played this season and I hope their good form continues. I also hope we find a miracle cure for Ledley’s knee and that Woodgate gets fit as soon as possible. Five quality centre halves is a strong position for any club and is hopefully a position from which we can push on and make real progress.