The 952 Blues fans who travelled to Portman Road on Saturday to see the team draw 1-1 with Ipswich were treated somewhat to a rare moment- a goal from Jonathan Grounds.
His second half finish, with his right foot might I add, to put Blues into the lead was his first goal of the season and his first since September 2015.
Grounds is often a player that receives stick from the fans and unfairly in my opinion. He’s the scapegoat, if you like. Since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2014, he has missed just six Championship games and played in every single minute apart from those six.
He’s a lot more crucial to the team than some people think and the good stuff he does seems to go under the radar quite often. But, for me, he is one of the most consistent players in the squad and in some ways is over performing. Let’s remember, he was signed back in the Lee Clark days on a free transfer from League One club Oldham.
I’ll admit, he does get exploited at times and he has his weaknesses but doesn’t every player? The feeling I seem to get from a lot of fans is that they don’t rate Grounds at all and they don’t seem to look beyond the odd mistake he might make. He has his moments but more often than not, he is a reliable performer for Blues and doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
The stats to back it up
According to WhoScored.com, Grounds has the highest average player rating of any player in the Blues squad this season- 7.08. He is followed by Ryan Shotton (7.05) and Lukas Jutkiewicz (7.0). For me, I can’t really argue with that as all three players have been very good for us this season despite the downfall since Zola arrived at the club.
In terms of defensive stats, Grounds has also made the most average tackles per game for Blues with 2.3. He’s closely followed unsurprisingly by David Davis and Maikel Kieftenbeld who both average 2.2. Grounds’ aerial ability is also there for all to see. He’s up there with Jutkiewicz and Shotton when it comes to aerial duels won per game with an average of 4.2.
If you’re not convinced by his attacking prowess then you have to look no further than his assist tally. He currently has three assists to his name this season which is the joint highest at the club alongside Che Adams and Michael Morrison if you take David Cotterill (on loan at Bristol City) out of the equation.
I think a lot of fans expected Grounds to lose his place in the side as soon as Cheick Keita arrived at the club but injuries at centre back gave him the opportunity to move inside from his left back position.
In the few times he has played as a centre half, Grounds has looked extremely comfortable there and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually ended up playing there regularly.
Keita is clearly an exciting player as we have already seen but you would say that he is best in the left wing back position in the current five at the back formation that Gianfranco Zola is currently deploying. His attacking nature means that there has to be the necessary defensive cover at the back when he moves forward.
Grounds has been playing at left wing back whilst Keita has been out recovering from a recent injury but I do expect him to naturally progress and move back inside as the left centre back of the three.
Paul Robinson has surprised us all and has started 10 out of the last 11 games despite being 38-years-old. As a more long term thing and looking ahead to next season, I can see Grounds playing a crucial role at left centre back in a back five, with Keita to the left of him.
His current contract at St Andrew’s expires this June but there is the option of an extra year which I expect the club will take up. At the age of 29, Grounds still has years left in him and I think he can really flourish for Blues, particularly as a centre back in a five at the back system.
He has the height, physicality and seems comfortable when bringing the ball out from the back which will suit the side if Zola is still in charge next season. In just his third season at the club, Grounds has reached 125 league appearances which is an incredibly impressive tally in such a short space of time and shows just how underrated and crucial he is to the team.