Praising a player who has just scored a Premier League hat-trick is hardly original, but in Callum Wilson’s case it’s probably appropriate.
Prior to this season, it was difficult to predict what Wilson could be in the top-flight. Twenty goals in one Championship year is obviously impressive, but 2014/15 was really his break-out campaign and so its greater significance was subsequently quite vague.
Plenty of players have had prolific years at the beginning of their careers and then faded back down to a lower trend. Equally, far more have been very successful at lower league level and then looked decidedly average once they progress beyond their comfort zone.
Beyond those natural caveats, the concern with Wilson is probably over his composure. There is no evidence to suggest that he isn’t a top-flight goal-scorer yet, but neither is there definitive proof that he is. A lot of his goals last year were very Championship in nature and relied as much on his athletic ability as they did his technical skill or mental attributes. He took advantage of space behind defences, he was given a lot of time and, without meaning to asterisk his contribution to Bournemouth’s promotion, that clearly bolstered his tally. Equally, looking back at his goal compilation from that season now, very few of those efforts radiate the kind of quality that you typically find within the top division.
That’s not a criticism of Wilson: he’s young and 2014/15 was only his third full season as a professional - he has to be allowed to grow into his attributes and adjust to the different levels of the game as he’s exposed to them. His finishing was often very smart last season and a couple of his goals were really well-taken but, if such a thing exists, they didn’t quite glint with Premier League quality.
On Saturday, however, he give the first indication that he really might belong at the top of the game. The hat-trick was great and the three points were essential for Eddie Howe and Bournemouth as a team, but Wilson’s second goal was special.
West Ham were in a charitable mood at the weekend and Aaron Cresswell did a fine job of parting his own defence with that pass to nobody. Still, Wilson’s composure in that situation was still very pertinent because there are plenty of players who, on finding themselves in that situation, would have snatched at the chance and slashed the ball at goal.
He didn’t. He took a touch, was completely aware of how much time he had, and then very deliberately lifted the ball over Darren Randolph.
The actual sequence isn’t particularly impressive, but when you apply the context it’s increasingly more so. Wilson had already scored in that game, so we can presume that his confidence was high, but it’s still something for a young forward to be that cold-blooded in the hothouse of a Premier League penalty-box.
Everything happens very quickly: Wilson intercepted the pass, controlled the ball, and shaped it around and over Randolph before the home defence can really process what’s happening. It was slick and it was deadly, but it was also really well-constructed and everything about it was admirably deliberate.
And it’s the sort of moment which not only makes the people watching take notice, but can also convince an inexperienced player that he belongs within an environment.
That’s very important. The act of simply scoring would have meant the world to him, sure, and scoring a hat-trick away from home is a wonderful beginning to the season, but that second should have assuaged any doubts he may have had over his ability to convert chances at this level.
What that means long-term, who knows? Scoring in an aesthetically pleasing way in August doesn’t necessarily lead to anything in the next seven months of the season, but it felt like an important moment and it seemed to be a significant waypoint for Wilson to reach.
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