“A keystone player”: Why keeping Jade Pennock fit will be critical to Birmingham’s chances of a WSL return – scout report
2021/22 will not be a season that Birmingham City Women will look back on with fond memories, as the team struggled for form throughout the WSL campaign and were eventually relegated to the Women’s Championship for their first-ever season outside the top flight.
However, that did give them a chance to rebuild their squad, with interim head coach Darren Carter given the full-time role and having time to work on his preferred tactics. Some bold transfer moves followed, with the likes of Manchester United Women full-back Martha Harris and Liverpool Women forward Ashley Hodson joining the group, but there was also a good amount of talent already at the club for Carter to work with, and one of those who could play a big part in helping Birmingham back to the WSL is Jade Pennock, who joined last summer from Sheffield United Women and has proven to be central to Carter’s style of play.
Capable of operating on either wing, as an attacking midfielder or a striker, Pennock offers a lot to her team in the central and final thirds, and this tactical analysis will look in greater depth at her on-field qualities. The scout report will focus specifically on how her movement and ability to work alone have been crucial to Birmingham’s transitions, as well as why her ability to play in different roles around the pitch has made her a player that Birmingham simply can’t afford to be without.
With Birmingham City Women playing a quick style of football this season, it has been essential that their players have the ability to move around the pitch and constantly be aware of each other’s whereabouts, with them often making rapid decisions in order to exploit spaces before they are closed off.
Fortunately, this is a style of play that Jade Pennock thrives in, with her working with teammates around the pitch and being responsible for keeping their attacking momentum going. One of the players that she often links up with is former Leicester City Women forward Libby Smith, who has tended to lead the line on her own this season and so has needed support from those behind her, and this situation shows how Pennock is never far away.
However, what is clever about Pennock’s movement here is that she can assess situations and then make decisions about where to move to, based on what is happening with the ball. In this case, Smith is taking the ball towards the nearside line and is under pressure from Coventry United Women’s Evie Gane, so there are two options that Pennock can choose between, with the first being to run forwards and get into an area where she can shoot at goal, and the second being to hold her position and give Smith a way of getting the ball away from Gane and Jodie Bartle, who goes across to try and create a 2-v-1.
On this occasion, Pennock takes the first option but sees Smith’s attempted pass towards her blocked by Bartle, with the ball going out of play and the danger ending. However, despite this particular chance not coming off, the point still stands that Pennock’s movement and ability to make decisions has been critical to Birmingham’s offensive play, with it helping them to keep the ball alive and create goalscoring opportunities.
Here, the two attackers are once again in close proximity, with Smith this time dropping back to receive a pass from Republic of Ireland utility player Jamie Finn. However, because she has taken up such a deep position, she now doesn’t have time to turn and run forwards, with Gane once again looking to get across and close her down.
That is where Pennock comes in because she is alive to this and knows that she needs to run ahead of Smith and ensure that Birmingham can keep the ball moving towards Coventry’s goal area. She also sees that Gane’s decision to move towards the ball has left a gap open, which is all the invitation she needs to get up the pitch and give Smith a forward passing option.
What is really important about this though is that Pennock makes this decision before Smith has controlled the pass from Finn, with her in the right area once the striker has got her head up to look for options. Therefore, again, Pennock’s ability to read the game and make early movements shows how her qualities have been key to Birmingham’s attacking play this season, and this is another reason that they always have a chance of winning matches when she is on the field.
On this occasion, Smith is on the far side wing and is looking to move the ball inside the pitch, but Lewes Women have got numbers back to make this as difficult as possible for her.
Therefore, Pennock, in the blue circle, makes a run forwards and instantly attracts the attention of the Lewes players, with three of them following the Birmingham player and leaving space open behind them for Smith to pass into, and the fact that former Crystal Palace Women player Siobhan Wilson managed to control the ball, move towards the box and have a shot showed how much of an effect Pennock’s initial movement had on helping her team to create a goalscoring opportunity where none was previously available.
Therefore, again, her importance to the team cannot be questioned, and keeping her fit and in top form will be essential if Birmingham are to return to the WSL at the first time of asking.
Roles around the pitch
When summarising what Jade Pennock brings to Birmingham City Women, it would be easy to conclude that she is an attacking midfielder who creates goalscoring opportunities. However, there is much more to it than that, with little details in her game such as her positioning and ability to operate in different roles around the pitch all proving hugely beneficial to the way Birmingham play, and it is these that this scout report will now examine.
Firstly, as mentioned, Pennock tends to play in holes left open by opponents, such as this one in the Lewes ranks, and these are the areas where she always poses a threat. It is worth mentioning that her only goal in the WSL last season came from a similar position at Walton Hall Park, when she received the ball, drove forwards and sent it across Everton Women’s goal. Therefore, she has already proven that, if allowed to get into these spaces, she will pose a threat.
However, the key thing to note here is not what Pennock does, but what her teammates do. On the far side of the pitch, Wilson is staying in the open space and giving herself time to control the ball if it were to come her way, whilst Smith is running across the front of Ellie Hack, as the yellow arrow shows, and looking to give Pennock a passing option in the space behind the defence, and it was the striker that Pennock opted to move the ball towards on this occasion, with the slight change of direction catching Lewes out.
The reason that neither player moves towards Pennock here is that they know that she is very capable of making good carries when in these areas of the pitch, with this graphic indicating how many she has made so far this season and the variety of areas that they have come from.
However, it is also worth noting that 11 of these have penetrated the goal area, which reflects how she likes to take the ball a long way up the pitch before releasing it, making it easier for her teammates to then shoot at the goal and lessening the chances of their opponents winning the ball before it travels into the box.
Therefore, the simple fact is that, when Pennock gets into these areas of the pitch and has options available to her, she will always pose a significant threat, and this is something that Birmingham can continue to build on as the season progresses.
However, Pennock is also clever with her attacking positioning when out of possession, as she knows when to push forward and when to hold back. Here, the ball has been sent into Charlton Athletic Women’s goal area, with Birmingham’s Harriet Scott and Louise Quinn already looking to get on the end of it.
Pennock recognises this and so doesn’t run forwards, which some players would be tempted to do. Instead, she holds her position and focuses on the second phase of the attack, which would be triggered by either Bethan Roe or on-loan Aston Villa Women defender Elisha N’Dow making a clearance. The space that she has given herself means that, should the ball come her way, she would have time to control it and either shoot at goal or feed it back towards one of her teammates, with her intelligence and ability to think two steps ahead of everyone else again giving her options.
Pennock is also capable of dropping back into her own half when needed and helping her team to keep the ball, with this situation demonstrating how this helps Birmingham to keep possession when under pressure from their opponents.
Here, Coventry have Megan Alexander and Merritt Will around the ball, and Birmingham need calm heads in order to not risk giving it away. Pennock rarely loses her composure when in tight situations, with her having a 74.9% passing accuracy so far this season, and what is particularly noticeable here is that she doesn’t take her eyes off the ball. This makes it easier for her to make good contact with it, as poor touches would give Coventry an opportunity to win possession and launch an attack.
However, Birmingham’s teamwork once again comes into play here, with Scott running up the nearside wing to help Pennock out, giving her a way of getting the ball out of danger and allowing the team to look for another way to move up the pitch.
Pennock knows that Birmingham need players who are happy to help each other out, taking up different positions and playing their part in transitions and maintaining their fast style of play, and her heatmap for this season indicates how much of the pitch she has been seen in so far. Therefore, when looking at why she is such an important player in this team, it needs to be factored in that she is always available, either in defence or attack, and that is another reason that keeping her fit will be essential to Birmingham having the best possible opportunity of returning to the WSL next summer.
However, whilst many of the points made in this scout report can be mentioned in regard to any player, something that is relatively unique about Jade Pennock is that she is happy to work on her own when needed and doesn’t always need support from teammates, which is becoming rarer in modern men’s and women’s football.
This might sound like a strange point to make, but players when they get into space often hold play up and look for someone to pass the ball to. However, whilst Pennock does do that at times, she is also very happy to take control of situations and try to make things happen for her team. In this situation, she has possession on the nearside of the pitch, with Gane once again looking to limit her options. Most players in this situation might look to pass backwards and move the ball across the pitch, but Pennock instead looks forwards and uses her quick acceleration to take the ball beyond Gane and into an area where she can send it into the goal area.
The fact that she has only made four crosses this season, with just two being on target, shows that this is not something she does all the time, but she has won 30.4% of her offensive duels, so it is within her skillset to be successful when she does look to take opponents on, and the confidence that she shows in these situations will give Birmingham plenty of goalscoring opportunities and help them to catch opponents out in the middle.
Here, Pennock is inside the goal area, having taken the ball forwards herself, and now has two choices, with the first being to pass to one of her teammates, and the second being to shoot at goal, and having a shot is definitely the riskier option given the angle that she is at. However, the confidence that has been on show throughout this scout report is once again demonstrated, with Pennock ignoring both Smith and on-loan Leicester midfielder Charlie Devlin and firing across goal, finding the bottom of the Coventry net.
As with the last example, this shows that Pennock is not the type of player who likes to hang around in the final third, with her recognising that holding onto the ball for a fraction of a second too long would invite an opponent to make a tackle attempt and look to clear the ball. Therefore, her ability to take control and prevent opponents from having those chances is another reason that she is an important player for Birmingham to have on the field.
However, whilst there are clearly a lot of positives in Pennock’s game, what she does need to improve is her end product. Last season, as mentioned, she only scored once in the WSL, whilst she has just two to her name this time around (one of which was shown in the previous image) and only 35.3% of her shots have been on target so far.
It is not down to her getting into bad positions, with the entirety of this analysis showing that she has good speed around the field and knows where she can pose a threat, and here she has run onto a pass from Smith and taken advantage of the poor attempt by Brighton and Hove Albion Women’s Sweden defender Emma Kullberg to win possession during their recent Continental Cup clash. However, Pennock ends up sending her effort too close to Megan Walsh, making it easy for the Brighton and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper to save her shot and hold onto the ball.
Therefore, for all of her creative quality and ability to get into the right areas at the right time, she is not someone that Darren Carter can rely on at the moment for consistent goals, so this is something that she perhaps needs to work on in order to be even more potent.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in detail at Birmingham City Women attacker Jade Pennock, highlighting the different qualities that make her a vital piece in Darren Carter’s puzzle and a keystone player in his attempt to lead the club back to the WSL.
The Championship is a tough league to get out of, with every side capable of winning games if they play well, and teams need to have as many different qualities in their squad as possible in order to find ways past their opponents. For Birmingham, having Pennock in their side means that they have a player who is capable of securing possession and helping to move the ball around the pitch during transitions, both of which are often thankless and sometimes unnoticed tasks, and this is why she is someone that they quite simply have to have on the pitch whenever she is available.
If she stays fit and in top form, then there is no doubt that St. Andrews has a good chance of hosting WSL action again next season.