“Accrington Stanley?”. “Who are they?”. “Exactly!”. Those of a certain age will remember the infamous Ian Rush milk advert, and if you’re not, if you don’t drink you’re milk you’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. Which is where we found Josh Windass and Matt Crooks, both signed on pre-contract agreements with a £60,000 compensation fee agreed for Windass. This looked like good business at the time with 17 goals in 35 games in his previous season and a growing reputation as a creative, dynamic attacking midfielder very much in the Paul Gascoigne mould.
A goal on his debut in preseason and his first competitive goal in just his third appearance against East Stirling, Windass looked like he could be a bargain. Unfortunately, he picked up a hamstring injury which side-lined him for 6 weeks. His first game back? The (first) 5-1 defeat to Celtic. Playing in midfield with a noticeably unfit Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton, he was widely accepted as the only player to come out with any credit despite having been out for 6 weeks. He provided drive, energy, and positivity with genuine pace when he had the ball, looking to relieve pressure by dribbling through the Celtic midfield and into the final third.
Windass continued to be troubled by hamstring problems throughout the season and only ever managed to start 4 consecutive games once in Oct/Nov where Rangers won 3 and drew 1 (the Battle of Dingwall where Ross County received 6 yellow cards mostly for cynical fouls including several on Windass as he broke through midfield).
In total, he only managed 14 league starts and 28 appearances in total throughout the campaign. He only lost 5 games that he started, Celtic (4) and Aberdeen (1) where the back four included 3 players under 21 with 6 Rangers appearances between them in Myles Beerman, David Bates, and Aidan Wilson. Other than against Celtic and Aberdeen, when Windass played Rangers never conceded more than 1 goal and had 11 clean sheets in 28 games.
As with most modern players, you can find YouTube highlight reels and Windass’ (like Barrie McKay’s) are full of clips of him picking the ball up deep or near to the half way line then beating the first man and bursting away at pace. He is an underrated passer of the ball in the final third but can choose the wrong option closer to goal, potentially due to the pace he is moving at and playing more centrally where space is limited. This could be attributed to an apparent lack of composure as disastrously demonstrated with his diving header in the closing stages in the recent Europa League exit v Progres Niederkorn that must be improved.
Many held him solely responsible for the exit. For the first goal, it’s claimed Windass could’ve done more to block the cross and for the second goal he gave away a cheap free kick. In both instances, the crosses should’ve been dealt with collectively by the Rangers defence and for the first goal, he had to stop and change direction to make the ground up with no support from other players. He had already made an immediate impact when introduced as a substitute by attacking the Niederkorn back four from midfield before releasing Wallace who crossed for Kranjcar to head against the bar from close range, only for Progress to go up the other end of the park to open the scoring.
In January @thespflradar posted a question on Twitter where you had to guess who had the following statistics: 1st in assists per 90 mins, 2nd in passes in the final third, 3rd in key passes per 90 mins? The answer was, of course, Windass. Despite starting 12 games less than Stuart Armstrong and 16 less than Scott Sinclair he is only 2 assists behind them at a rate of 0.41 assists per 90 minutes and a total of 5 from 14 starts. He isn’t shy to have a go himself with 32 attempts at goal but only 7 on target, again perhaps an indication of his lack of composure or a lack of consecutive appearances affecting his decision making.
His overall passing percentage is over 80% and pushing 79% in forward passing, which considering the packed defences Rangers play against is impressive. Even more so is a percentage of 77% in final third pass completion.
It’s his defensive duties, as suggested v Progres that lets him down. A defensive duel success of just 13% from an average of 4 duels per 90 minutes is not good reading regardless of where they take place on the pitch but even more so if they are in front of the back four.
Windass is an accomplished passer, a skillful dribbler with pace on and off the ball who should be scoring more goals based on the opportunities he creates for himself (sound familiar?) and that he gets onto the end of by ghosting into the box from midfield. He needs to play games regularly to see if is composure and confidence in front of goal improves. Kenny Miller and Niko Kranjcar regularly occupy Windass’s strongest position behind the striker which means his defensive frailties get exposed in a deeper midfield role, making him the much-maligned player he is today.
With the recent additions of Dorrans, Pena and Jack added to the return to fitness of both Rossiter and Kranjcar his central opportunities may be limited but with his attacking abilities in mind would it be worth seeing if Windass can produce a run of form from a wider position where his pace and passing ability would be an asset?
Whereas McKay had 175 chances to prove his worth and perhaps didn’t, I think Windass at 23-years-old deserves more than the 20 odd he has been given based on the potential he has shown in glimpses – if he is kept away from our own box!