Few things exemplify football fans’ insatiable craving for instant gratification like their expert snap judgements of new signings. It’s tedious enough when it’s coming from fans of the Premier League elite, after a hyped up starlet doesn’t hit the ground running following their big money move (see Nicolas Pépé at Arsenal), but it becomes even more ridiculous when it’s lower league supporters writing off – and slagging off – a free agent who came to the club as a squad player. The unstoppable rise of social media has only made such sentiments more prominent.
Josh Parker has played 207 minutes of football since joining Wycombe in August. That’s the equivalent of less than two-and-a-half games. Only Paul Smyth – who’s been injured since late that month – and Nnamdi Ofoborh – who only arrived on deadline day and has missed three games through suspension – have seen less action. Already, though, it’s been demanded that Parker never play for Wycombe again and stated that he’ll go down as one of our worst ever strikers. He’s been blamed for our inability to snatch a late winner against Accrington and, most succinctly, he’s been dismissed as “pants”. So there.
Now, let’s be honest, he hasn’t been a revelation, but how is he supposed to find his rhythm when he’s playing such an infrequent bit–part? So he’s slipped at some inopportune moments and put a shot over the away end; has no other Wycombe player ever done that? His only two starts have come against Championship Reading in the Carabao Cup – his debut when he clearly wasn’t match fit – and Stevenage in the EFL Trophy, in which he lined up as part of an experimental 11 playing with the handbrake on. The former was effectively a write-off – although he did whip in a delightful for corner for Alex Samuel’s opener – and the latter was a forgettable night for the whole team. Also, these were just his eighth and ninth starts this calendar year.
One of those starts, though, came for Charlton in the small matter of the Addicks’ dramatic play-off final win over Sunderland. And that’s one of the big things those so eager to criticise seem to be overlooking: Parker is a proven player in the third tier. I’m thinking mainly of his time at Gillingham, where he enjoyed the best period of his career, chalking up 18 goals and eight assists in 89 appearances while playing in a variety of positions. He was their man of the match in our 2-2 draw there last December and obviously impressed enough for Lee Bowyer to take him to The Valley. You don’t keep on getting signed by League One clubs if you’ve not shown that you can hack it at this level.
It’s not like he hasn’t shown glimpses of what he can offer since arriving here either. Most notable in that sense was his terrific cameo in September’s 3-0 win at Rochdale. That was the first time we saw him play through the middle for us and he looked right at home, making a nuisance of himself by chasing long balls over the top – he’s pretty pacey – and hitting the woodwork with a lovely curling effort. He played almost a third of his 2019/20 league minutes that day and made a strong contribution. If you saw that game and still think he’s not good enough, you’re probably suffering from confirmation bias.
In short: cut the guy some slack. I don’t care how small a minority are guilty; it’s embarrassing. He is a decent player but just needs a run in the side. If you insist upon abusing him from behind a screen, though, consider what he might have been through in his life that you don’t know about – such as his hellish time at Red Star Belgrade. He’s overcome far bigger hurdles than a bumpy start to life at a new club, and that speaks volumes about his character.
Also consider this: he’s a Gareth Ainsworth signing. If Gaz sees enough in him to give him a two-year deal, that’s good enough for me and should be for all of us. You might not be convinced by him – and no one’s saying you should be after 207 minutes – but he’s shown enough promise and has the track record for us to expect to be convinced by him in time.