Unsworth and Ablett

by   |   01/05/2020  10 Comments  [Jump to last]

I thought to ask fellow Blues this question about these two former players:

I have always wondered if we played Unsworth and Ablett in their best positions?

I could be wrong, but I recall that Unsworth broke into the team as a centre-back?
And he acquitted himself well during that initial period. Was he moved to the left because we lost Andy Hinchcliffe, and that there was a surfeit of centre-backs?

Likewise for Ablett. I was under the impression that he was playing more as a centre-back while he was at Liverpool, and was also doing that when we first bought him.

Can any fans can shed more light or thoughts on this?

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Reader Comments (10)

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Peter Gorman
1 Posted 01/05/2020 at 14:06:51
As far as I know, Ablett was always a left-back and was not likely to progress at Liverpool once they signed Staunton and Burrows. He did play some games from them at centre-half to cover for injuries but I would have assumed we signed him as a full-back who just so happened to be versatile.

I think Hinchcliffe wasn't getting into the team ahead of Ablett until Joe Royle took over and even then, Ablett or Unsworth played sometimes alongside Watson in the centre. His near-legendary run and cross for Amokachi at Elland Road makes me think he was doing a good job where we played him.

Unsworth was always a big lad so you'd be forgiven for not seeing him as a left-back but I think he made his debut there (scoring a cracking volley against Spurs) but when Royle came in and started favouring Hinchcliffe, Unsy was a partner for Watson.

It was more the following season when we signed Short that we saw Unsy more out on the left, but in truth, he was a rhino of both trades in reality.

That's how I remember things anyway, Terence.

Martin Reppion
2 Posted 01/05/2020 at 17:05:11
I share Peter's memories above. Rhino was a versatile player, cool in front of goal for a defender. He also scored a cracking volley at Newcastle with Duncan playing for the barcodes.

Gary Ablett I remember as an able player though seldom, if ever, first choice in any position.

Kieran Kinsella
3 Posted 01/05/2020 at 17:38:13

First time I saw Unsie, he was playing as a left-winger for the England U-17s.

But yeah, I remember things the same as you do. He or Ablett at left-back with the other in centre, then Hinchcliffe made left-back his own and ultimately Ablett was squeezed out with Unsie and Watson at centre-back.

Funny thing is, I thought while at Liverpool that Burrows was a lot better than Ablett but at Everton I thought Ablett was very able whereas Burrows was a waste of space.

Terence Leong
4 Posted 02/05/2020 at 09:49:00
Thanks guys, appreciate the info. I guess I first saw Unsy at centre-back – I wasn't aware of his previous playing position.

I thought he did well against the physical players like Mark Hughes and the smaller faster players like Robbie Fowler.

I certainly wasn't aware of Ablett being moved on because of Staunton and Burrows. Guess my memories of Ablett was him contesting the centre-back positions at Liverpool, with players like Gillespie, Hansen and later on the Swedish player Hysen.

I reckon when I look back at their careers, maybe more Unsy than Ablett, because of the length of service, I often wondered if Unsy would have been more effective as a centre-back.

Especially when he lost his pace, and how he seemed to always launch it route one to Big Dunc when he ran down the flanks.

Peter Gorman
5 Posted 02/05/2020 at 12:20:32
Terence, you're not wrong. Ablett did contest the centre-half positions at Liverpool, but only because he was already the 3rd choice left-back yet versatile enough to cover in the middle for Hansen when he got injured.

It could also be argued that Unsy was better at centre-half on the basis that it was there that he played well enough to earn a solitary England cap.

Like I said earlier, Unsy really moved to left-back in earnest when we signed Craig Short and more pressingly when Hinchcliffe injured his knee. If you think about it, it is not uncommon to blood young centre-halves at full-back and Unsy was no different to Richard Dunne, Jon O'Connor and Mason Holgate in this regard.

Come to think of it, it isn't even just the youngsters; Lescott played left-back well enough to keep Baines out, Weir played a bit at right-back to start with, as did Jagielka. And Matt Jackson was really not a right-back at all!

Some of those I would definitely say we played in the wrong position but in the case of Ablett and Unsworth they pretty much proved to be capable of playing both roles effectively.

Dave Williams
6 Posted 02/05/2020 at 12:35:17
Unsy seemed to me to be a centre-back. He was great in 94-95 culminating in a fantastic performance in the FA Cup Final where he didn't give Hughes a kick and he seemed destined for great things. He was then selected to play for England that summer against Japan and had a poor game against small and nimble players who exposed him.

As he matured, he grew bigger – possibly too big – and lost some of the excellent pace he had when he first broke into the team. He had a good career, versatile in both positions but always looked a bit too cumbersome against the smaller strikers and not quite tall enough against the strikers who were known to be good in the air.

Ablett was a decent player who could play centre-back but wasn't physically strong enough against the big strikers. He wasn't blessed with great pace but had a good brain and could do a good job in either position without being likely to be a regular choice in a good team.

Both great club men and so sad to see Ablett pass away so young.

Dennis Stevens
7 Posted 03/05/2020 at 00:19:59
Ablett is the only player to win the Cup with both us & them, if I remember correctly.
Lee Courtliff
8 Posted 03/05/2020 at 01:02:59
I never thought of Unsy as left-back. After a few brief appearances and odd start, he was brought in for the final 6/7 games of the 93-94 season by Mike Walker. He played very well and kept his place for the start of the following season.

When Walker was finally put out of his misery Unsy had established himself as first choice at centre-back alongside Dave Watson. They were both fantastic under Royle for the remainder of that season. Only in the odd game was Unsy moved to left-back, once at home to Newcastle in the Cup Quarterfinal, I imagine due to the pace of their right-winger, Keith Gillespie.

The year after, he started as first choice but lost his place to Short but eventually regained it. We played a 3-5-2 quite a few times between 95 and 96 so it wasn't uncommon to see all 3 in the starting 11.

He did play left-back quite a lot under the managers after Royle but he never got back to the levels he had reached during the 94-95 season.

My Dad and I always thought Ablett was a better centre-back than left-back but the partnership of Waggy and Unsy was rock solid for the most part and I think the pace of Unsy next to the aging Watson was one of the reasons Big Joe didn't want to break them up during our Cup-winning season.

Hinchcliffe was mainly used in midfield until we signed Kanchelskis. That meant Limpar switched to the left wing and Hinchcliffe was dropped for a few games.

He eventually came back and made left-back his own position to the point that Ablett was allowed to leave on loan to Sheffield Utd late on in the 95-96 season and eventually sold to Birmingham that summer along with Barry Horne.

The injuries that hit in the Christmas period of 1996 really hurt us and we could have done much, much worse than hang on to both Ablett and Horne for another year.

Ste Traverse
9 Posted 05/05/2020 at 10:34:16
Ablett was certainly more a left back than centre back. When he played there he usually got taken to the cleaners by the likes of Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand and even Efan Ekouku scored four times against us when Norwich thrashed us at Goodison in and Ablett was covering for an injured Dave Watson.

As for Unsworth, he never built on his tremendous 94-95 season were amongst many other great performances he kept Mark Hughes quiet at the cup final and had him crying to the ref before the end.

Karl Graham
10 Posted 29/05/2020 at 12:44:54
For me, they were both centre-backs who could play left-back as was Lescott. When Howard Kendall bought Ablett I think he probably was intended as a replacement for Ratcliffe with the added bonus that he could also cover for Hinchcliffe.

Unsworth played his best games at centre-back but was prone to the odd glaring error which is why he ended up as left-back as errors aren't always punished as severely. If I was playing both, I would probably play Unsworth at centre-back and Ablett at left-back. Not replacing Ablett in 1996 was an error in my opinion as it left us short on cover in both positions.

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