Scott Hogan’s career has not gone to plan since leaving Brentford, but a fine start at Birmingham suggests we could be talking about him much more again…
Let’s not get excited too early. It’s three goals in three games, which is a belting start by any standard, but it is only three games. Two of those three goals were relatively scruffy tap-ins. Sometimes these things are fairly random, runs of form artificial, sample sizes like that far too small.
But it is pretty heartening to see Scott Hogan start life at Birmingham City so well. What’s more, those three goals have been crucial ones: equalisers in what turned out to be impressive victories against Nottingham Forest and Bristol City, then the only goal in a 1-0 win over Barnsley. Three wins to which Hogan contributed enormously, extending an unbeaten run that has moved Birmingham from nervously thinking about the threat of relegation, to optimistically glancing up at the playoff places. The bad news is that the latter is realistically out of the question, but the good news is that the former is too.
It’s heartening because Hogan has endured a pretty rough time of it in the last couple of years. After Aston Villa paid £12million for him on deadline day in January 2017, as they desperately tried to spend their way out of the Championship (he was one of eight signings that month), his career has…not gone to plan. He scored once in the remainder of that season, six times the following season and has been on loan at three different clubs in the last 12 months.
The previous two didn’t go well either. Hogan scored twice in eight games for Sheffield United and three in 13 for Stoke, before arriving at Birmingham in January. Where finally, things have started to click.
It’s also worth remembering the Ireland forward’s history, too. After working his way through a smorgasbord of non-league and semi-pro teams scattered across the north, he had a brilliant 2013/14 season with Rochdale, which inspired Brentford to recruit him. But just 16 minutes into his league debut, he snapped his cruciate ligaments and he didn’t play again for another 19 months.
When he did return to full fitness, he scored for fun: 13 in the first half of the following season which persuaded Villa to swoop, but from there it’s all gone a bit wrong. So much so that it was impossible not to wonder whether his career was actually just based on a good few months, and very easy to conclude that he actually wasn’t all that good.
“I’ve lost a bit of my reputation and it hurts,” Hogan said recently. “I had a couple of injuries but I just never got going (at Villa), found it difficult. There were a number of things that went on but it is what it is. I’m paying the price for that in the sense that I’m not really talked about anymore.
“I used to be talked about pretty much every other day when I was at Brentford. It is what it is and the only way I can do that is play regularly and score because I’ve always proved throughout my career that, if I play regularly, I’ll score goals.”
Hogan’s career to date has been a lesson in a number of things. Firstly, that in football generally but the Football League particularly, there are few objectively ‘good’ players – by which we mean players who could slot into any team and make them better. It’s probably more accurate to say that there are lots of the ‘right’ player for any situation. Players and teams have to match. Hogan and Brentford matched. Hogan and Villa, Stoke and Sheffield United didn’t match. But the early signs are that Hogan and Birmingham match.
As a sort of extension to that, you might also think that while Brentford have a well-deserved reputation for unearthing talent and selling them on at significant profit (they made around £11.25million on Hogan alone), what they might actually be good at is recruiting players who fit in their set-up, but struggle elsewhere. Indeed, if you look at a lot of the players they have sold on for big sums, not too many have been outstanding, inarguable successes elsewhere. Andre Gray has been decent in spells for Burnley and Watford, Neal Maupay has started solid enough at Brighton, and probably the best of the crop have been John Egan at Sheffield United and James Tarkowski at Burnley.
But the trio of Jota, Maxime Collin and Harlee Dean all disappeared into the Birmingham quagmire a couple of years back, Florian Jozefzoon no good at all with Derby, Ryan Woods hasn’t lived up to his potential at Stoke and Lasse Vibe had only a moderate scoring record after going back to IFK Gothenburg, among others.
Finally, it’s perfectly possible that Hogan just thrives in lower-profile situations, which sounds like a criticism but really isn’t. You think of Ben Foster, who was uncomfortable with Manchester United and England, but has thrived with Watford. At Brentford, particularly after his injury, Hogan had little to lose, every game a bonus and goals flowing from there, but as soon as he moved to Villa for that massive sum, the pressure heightened and the stakes increased. Equally at the loan clubs before Birmingham: he was in a promotion race with Sheffield United and with a floundering big club in Stoke. At Birmingham, he’s allowed to just be, and score some goals. Which is working out very nicely so far.
Whatever the truth, it’s just good to see Hogan back, hopefully fulfilling some of the potential we saw at Brentford and Rochdale. Maybe he’ll be talked about again now.
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