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Exclusive Interview: League Two Player of the Month Newport County’s Frank Nouble

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Frank Nouble

Few players have enjoyed such a fine start to the 2017/18 campaign as Newport County’s Frank Nouble.

Arriving at the south Wales club this summer after being released by Southend United, Nouble picked up the League Two Player of the Month award for August, scoring five goals and registering an assist in his first four matches for the South Wales outfit.

However, the striker insisted that the team aspect was most important as he played down the award, saying:

“It’s brilliant, we’ve had a great start. As a club we had a great start, we kept the momentum going from last season after a great second half of the season with a few new signings including myself. The goals really helped me to win the award.”

Having come through the ranks at Chelsea before moving to West Ham United, it would be fair to say that life hasn’t been easy for Frank Nouble since he left the Hammers in 2012. After six different loan spells and a disappointing spell at Wolves, the forward knew that he had to rebuild his career. He admitted:

“I’ve been so many places and people tend to think that I’m older than I am, but I’ve gained experience and now I’m using that here which is important here as we’re a young group and I’m one of the oldest in the team and I’m only 26-years-old.”

At Ipswich Town, Nouble enjoyed what he describes as the best spell of his career. Playing regular first team football for the first time, he missed only eight league games in his second season at Portman Road. At Championship level, Nouble’s side twice came close to promotion as they pushed for the play-offs but failed to make that final step. He said:

“It was the most enjoyable spell, with Mick McCarthy he was a great manager for me. He said it how it is and everyone appreciates a manager like that.”

It came as something of a surprise when he then moved on to Coventry, but his next move proved to be even more surprising as he became one of the first players to move from England to China, joining Tianjin Quanjian.

Frank Nouble

The Chinese side now boast the likes of former Chelsea and AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato and Belgian international Axel Witsel, with World Cup winning defender Fabio Cannavaro in charge in the dugout, but only two years ago it was Nouble who they were relying on for goals. Discussing his time there, the 25-year-old explained:

“It was totally different having come through the academy in England. Only three foreign players can play at one time so it was different. There were a lot of ups and downs but I enjoyed it, I’m glad I experienced it and it taught me a lot. They said that I was the first one to come over there, which is something in itself.”

Disappointing spells at Gillingham and Southend followed, playing just 51 minutes of football in his half a season at Roots Hall. Now, the 26-year-old has chosen what he believes to be the perfect destination, working under Michael Flynn at Rodney Parade. After a brilliant start, Nouble already feels comfortable with life in South Wales:

“Most places I’ve been to I have settled, but haven’t been given the chance that I’ve been given here by the manager. He’s given me free reigns and a leadership role in the team which I think I’ve taken on really well, so long may that continue. It feels like home so far.”

A lot of that is down to his new coach Flynn. Having been appointed last season and saved the club from relegation, the former player and local boy has turned his club into play-off contenders. Nouble was keen to emphasize the importance of the manager in his form, saying:

“Michael Flynn has been brilliant. Having been a player so recently he knows what it’s like to be at a League 2 club and to have the quality to step up, he’d be one of the stand out coaches in my career with Gianfranco Zola and Brendan Rodgers.”

Discussing his targets for the season, Nouble explained that he’s aiming for at least 20 goals, and showed that despite the setbacks in his career to date, he is not short of confidence:

“I want to be in the top seven and with a chance in the play-offs, I don’t think there’s anyone that we should be afraid of in this league. I’ve set myself a target of 20 goals, some people don’t like to say their target but I don’t agree with that.”

Long-term, the centre forward still has lofty ambitions. Having begun his career in the top flight and worked his way down, he insists that he still has the ability to return to the very top. Backed by his coach, who described him as “a Premier League player in the making”, Nouble feels that the door may still be open to him:

“Everyone wants to play in the Premier League, I still want to get back there. I’ve still got a lot of qualities that I’m working on, but you can’t do that if you’re not playing and before I haven’t played as much as I should have. The manager has taken a punt on me and I’m playing so the sky is the limit.”

For now though, Nouble will have his eyes set on a successful League 2 campaign with Newport County as the Exiles seek to turn their superb start into a promotion campaign to take the Welsh club to their highest position since 1987 when they were relegated from the third tier before being reformed in 1989.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Exclusives

Exclusive: Reto Ziegler – Europe’s journeyman opens up on fresh FC Dallas challenge

The Boot Room caught up with FC Dallas defender Reto Ziegler.

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Reto Ziegler
Photo: Getty Images

If you take one look at Major League Soccer as its 2018 season begins to get into full flow, you’d most likely find yourself surprised at the number of ex-Premier League players who currently ply their trade there.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the name on the tip of everyone’s tongues following his extremely well-documented move to Los Angeles Galaxy last month – even more so after his scarcely believable two-goal heroics on debut in the LA derby – but the MLS’ Premier League link runs deeper than that.

Whether it be the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Bastian Schweinsteiger who chanced their arm in America towards the end of their careers or someone like Bradley Wright-Phillips, making a name for himself at New York Red Bulls, the MLS is undeniably growing global interest year by year.

The latest player to be swayed by the lure of the MLS during the recent off-season is that of European football veteran Reto Ziegler, who made the switch to Texan outfit FC Dallas in January.

The 32-year-old former Switzerland international has certainly seen his fair share of the world since breaking into the Grasshopper first-team back in 2002 – across the previous 16 years Ziegler has featured for 12 different clubs across six European countries – but he insists that he’s up for the fresh challenge as FC Dallas attempt to reach their fourth Conference Finals in the past five seasons.

Speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, Ziegler said:

“It’s a nice change for me. It’s nice to play in the MLS and especially with Dallas.

“For me, the best opportunity was the MLS. Also for my family. I feel happy on the field and off the field. This is most important for me.”

Despite only being seven matches into his FC Dallas tenure it has already been an eventful time for Ziegler, seeing his new side fall to a shock two-legged defeat in the last-16 of the CONCACAF Champions League before leading from the back as Dallas sit unbeaten in the Western Conference.

“We are disappointed [to bow out of the CONCACAF]. It was one of our goals so we are a bit disappointed for that. But on the other hand in the MLS we are still unbeaten, we are really close to winning the games. It’s just a lack of concentration in front of the goalposts.”

Whilst the last-16 defeat to Panama minnows Tauro FC in the Champions League was a bitter blow before the domestic season began, there’s no denying that FC Dallas have bounced back.

Five games, no losses, and nine points – it’s a solid base to build on.

Four consecutive home matches to start the campaign brought three battling draws against Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids, with a resounding win over 2016 MLS Cup champions and 2017 MLS Cup runners-up Seattle Sounders and the latest win over New England Revolution moving them up to fifth in the early standings, four points off the top.

It is early days of course, and there’s an awful lot of MLS football to be played out between now and when the final positions in the ladder are done and dusted later in the year, but Ziegler seems confident that this current crop of players have the ability to produce something special.

 “We want to play in the front. The coach and the team, in the last year, they always play a major part of this league and in the first positions. I don’t want to be arrogant and say we want to be champions, but we have the quality to do that.

“It’s a team that plays football I really like. We keep lots of possession, we don’t play long balls, we have a good squad. I am really pleased with that.”

Having said that, the former Swiss international is by no means getting carried away with the potential that FC Dallas possess in their ranks.

With three draws coming in their opening five MLS games it’s been a case of nearly but not quite at times for the Texan outfit, and this is something Ziegler says they need to improve if they have dreams of going for glory at the end of the season.

“We need to win games.

“We didn’t score the goals but if you saw our games we create a lot of chances – but we didn’t score. We have to change and if we can change that I am sure we can beat each team here in the MLS.”

There is no denying that their finishing was more clinical away at New England this weekend though, with 22-year-old midfielder Jacori Hayes capping off an eye-catching display with a 76th-minute winner.

It was Hayes’ first goal for the club since being drafted back in early January – where he was selected in the first round – and Ziegler admitted that he has been impressed with the talent that he has come across in training from both Hayes and the other youngsters at FC Dallas.

“We have very good young players. It is not easy to get into the first-team. The step from the youth-team to the first-team is not easy.

“But we have a lot of quality in here. I think, if the team begins to win games, the coach will give the chance to these young players. You will see that we have really good quality here.

Saturday’s hard-fought victory over New England Revolution – a side that hadn’t lost in ten previous encounters at the Gillette Stadium prior to kick-off – was one that showcased everything that this current FC Dallas side is about, being well-organised and compact at the back and strong in midfield.

This foundation in defence has been the story of their season so far, and it’s been impressive.

After five games of the regular MLS season no other side can boast having a better defensive record than FC Dallas, who have conceded just three times in 450 minutes.

And this is partly down to the budding partnership that Ziegler is beginning to form with FC Dallas stalwart and US international Matthew Hedges.

The 28-year-old has made over 150 appearances for the club since making his debut six years ago, quickly making a name for himself as one of the best central defenders across the MLS.

With the MLS experience that Hedges has – being crowned MLS Defender of the Year in 2016 after a standout season – mixed with the global experience that Ziegler can bring to the table, there’s a ready-made recipe for success down at the Toyota Stadium, and this defensive partnership could be key to how the year pans out.

On a more personal level, it has been quite the career for the 32-year-old, to date.

From starting out at Swiss side Grasshopper, to stints at Tottenham and Juventus, before short-term periods spent in Turkey and Russia at Fenerbahce and Lokomotiv Moscow, respectively, and then returning back home to FC Sion in his native Switzerland, it has been anything but boring for Ziegler.

During this time it’s not just his club that has changed though, but also his position.

From being a young left-midfielder at Wigan Athletic to a rejuvenated centre-back at FC Sion, it appears that it’s taken until late in his footballing career to find out just where Ziegler truly thrives.

And – as seen in some strong performances in the heart of defence for FC Dallas already in the infancy of this MLS season – it’s in this more central role that has seen him offer his full potential.

Reflecting on his shift to the middle of the back-four, he said:

“It was not my decision, but the coach at that time with Sion needed a centre-back. I played there, got man-of-the-match and we won the Swiss Cup. When we went to the Europa League, we played Liverpool twice and we drew twice, and I played this position.

“I feel really comfortable in this position. I was awarded best centre-back in Switzerland. It was a surprise for me because when you play ten years at left-back you do not expect to change positions.

“But I have a lot of fun in this position. It’s a position where I can help my team-mates and be a leader, that’s why I was captain also back home. I enjoy myself in this position.”

And whilst Ziegler’s transition into a more central position has proved successful in recent years, he’ll face his sternest test yet when LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic come to town in a few weeks.

“Of course I am looking forward to playing against him [Ibrahimovic]. He is one of my favourite strikers. I played against him when he was at Inter Milan and with AC Milan.

“Now I am a centre-back – this time I really have to defend against him. I’m looking forward to that.”

With FC Dallas making a strong start to the MLS season hopes are already beginning to grow that this could be their best chance of claiming that elusive MLS Cup title for a fair few years.

After just five games of the regular season it already appears that Ziegler has made himself at home at FC Dallas, and if success is to follow in the upcoming months you can almost guarantee that the former Swiss international will play a vital role in the heart of the defence.

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England National Team

Exclusive: Steph Houghton – Leading, going unbeaten with Manchester City and FA developments

Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton has grown into her leadership role for both club and country. We caught up with the 29-year-old as she chases a fourth FA Women’s Super League career title…

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Photo: Reuters

Captain of club and country. Not many players can claim to have achieved that feat during their careers.

For Manchester City Women’s Football Club defender Steph Houghton this was a dream realised at just 25 years of age, when then-head coach Mark Sampson handed her the England Women’s National Team armband on a full-time basis.

“I have had to work hard to become the leader that I am”, she told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview. “I was quite a young captain getting the armband for both City and England at the same time. In this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to be myself and really grow as a leader.

“There is more responsibility in terms of ensuring everyone is maintaining high standards and sometimes that can be challenging, but ultimately it’s the proudest honour you could have in the game to captain both Manchester City and England.”

Leadership may not have come naturally to the now-29-year-old but, with over 200 clubs appearances and 100 international caps to her name, it is a trait she has acquired through gaining experience and realising new levels of achievement outside of her comfort zone.

This success has seen Houghton discover unchartered territory with England and Manchester City, leading the Lionesses to a third-place finish in the 2014 World Cup finals and the Blues to the club’s first ever Women’s Super League (WSL) title in 2016/17.

The Lionesses, who have become the pride of the nation, came agonisingly close to the World Cup final in Canada, with only a devastating injury-time own goal preventing them from a shot at the most prestigious prize in the women’s game.

Aside from the exemplary team spirit that the squad possesses, Houghton believes that the improved level of England performances over the years comes down to a tactical awareness that has set them aside from their opponents.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been adaptable in the way we play. We are very competitive. We want to win and we’ve found ways to win.

“When I think back to the World Cup in 2015, we played so many different formations that teams didn’t know what we were doing. That is a credit to the coaching staff and all the players who adapted to those different scenarios to outwit an opponent and most importantly win.”

After reaching a landmark 100 appearances for the Lionesses, Houghton celebrated a City milestone earlier this season, marking her club century against former club Sunderland Ladies.

Her 100th game came with a 3-0 triumph against her hometown side, with whom she spent five years at the beginning of her career before enjoying spells with Leeds United and Arsenal Ladies.

Houghton led Arsenal to an FA Cup and Continental Cup double in 2013 and was twice a Women’s Super League winner with the Gunners prior to joining Manchester City in 2014.

“I loved my time at Arsenal, it was a fantastic club and still is, but on a personal level, I wasn’t flourishing as much as I wanted to,” she said.

“Then Manchester City came in, a brand new team that was giving me the chance to play full time, compete in a fantastic stadium and also be closer to home. It really wasn’t an opportunity I could turn down.

The first few months were difficult, but I think in your career you have to go through those moments to come out even better.

“I know I made the right decision and I’m as happy as I could ever be here at City.”

Since making the move from London to Manchester in 2014, the Lionesses’ skipper has earned a number of titles and accolades, not least of which being awarded an MBE in recognition for her personal achievements and contributions to the game.

The Blues skipper is a respected figure both on and off the pitch and has become a huge inspiration to sportswomen everywhere.

Undoubtedly, reaching 100 games with City was a hugely proud moment for the 29-year-old, who has experienced a number of incredible moments throughout her time with the Manchester outfit.

However, she says the club’s domestic success throughout the 2016/2017 campaign remains the personal highlight among all her achievements.

“It was a massive honour and I never thought when I joined the club that I’d be able to play 100 games, but I was fortunate enough to be able to do so.

“There have been some amazing memories, our first Continental Cup final win, we were the underdogs and the feeling that night was unbelievable.

“But, I think winning the double in 2016 and then the FA Cup in 2017, capturing all three domestic trophies, has to up there because of the way we played.

“We went unbeaten and we only conceded four goals and that was a credit to every player and all the staff.”

Already holders of the WSL title and Continental Tyres (League) Cup, after a season without losing during 2016/17, the Blues claimed the full set with an FA Cup final victory over Birmingham City Ladies in May 2017.

For Manchester City Women’s this marked quite an achievement, having turned fully professional only three years earlier – on the back of the creation of the WSL.

After going full-time, City set about the same dominance their men’s side had enjoyed in the transfer market and the league, the outcome of which saw Houghton appear on the club’s radar, with manager Nick Cushing keen to add strong leaders to his ranks.

Houghton credits Cushing, who was named the club’s full-time head coach just a month before she signed for the Etihad outfit, for the significant role he has played in her development, both as a player and a person.

“He is the best coach I’ve ever played under and for me, and for the rest of the players, he’s really developed us into a team that knows a lot more about the game and are much more tactically aware.

“On a personal level, he has helped my game so much over the last four years. We work every day on the finer details, it’s about being good with the ball and without it.

“I owe a lot to him over the last four years, not only on the coaching side but also managing me as a person, really allowing me to be myself and develop as a leader.”

Cushing’s City side remain in an excellent position to challenge for a second league championship this term, just one point behind current leaders Chelsea Ladies, last season’s runners-up, after 11 games. 

Success in the Women’s Super League would have been the main target for the Blues prior to the season, defending the title they worked tirelessly to claim last term. However, the quadruple remains a possibility, with the club still competing on all fronts.

“As a club, we are so far meeting all the objectives we set at the beginning of the season.”

“We’re still competing in the Champions League with the quarterfinals coming up in March. We’re still in the FA Cup and have the Continental Cup final to look forward to, and we’re also challenging for the Women’s Super League.

“Ultimately, we want to keep winning football games and competing in all competitions, so we’re really happy with how the season is going.”

The fabric of a title-winning team comes in its ability to become resolute when the going gets tough and that is exactly what Manchester City showed in their last WSL fixture, against the league leaders.

City’s league hopes looked to be in a perilous position at half-time of their pivotal top-of-the-table clash against the Blues, with the Manchester outfit trailing 2-0 at the break, courtesy of strikes from Millie Bright and Ji So-Yun.

Nonetheless, an excellent second half City performance ensured the points were shared at the Academy Stadium, with goals from Nikita Parris and Georgia Stanway pegging back Chelsea’s first-half advantage.

Defeat would have been a devastating three points lost in the race for the title and, therefore, the eventual draw will be considered a valuable point gained. This game-by-game approach is one that Houghton knows will serve the club well during the run-in.

“This season, we need to take each game as it comes, we know it’s possible and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved, but we’ve still got a long way to go so we’ve got to remain focused if we’re going to achieve success.”

On the continent, City remain unbeaten in the Champions League and will play Swedish champions Linkopings in the quarter-finals in March after reaching the semi-finals of the competition last season.

Houghton and co. were knocked out of Europe by Lyon in 2016/17, and could face the four-time Women’s Champions League winners in the last four if both sides progress from the current round.

“We’ve got to believe. I think we performed well in the Champions League in our debut season, to make it to the semi-finals was an achievement, but we want to build on that.”

Away from the pitch, Houghton acts as an Ambassador for UEFA – a women’s football development role – the purpose of which is to provide models to young females wishing to participate in the sport.

As a leading English female footballer, the City captain holds a strong commitment to accelerating the progress of the women’s game – an objective that has been catalysed by the establishment of the FA WSL in 2010.

Finally committed to developing women’s football, the FA believed creating a viable elite league, which would initially be semi-professional, was to prove vital for the sport’s credibility. This was a decision backed by Houghton.

“The best idea we had was to introduce the FA WSL and having it as a summer league at first allowed clubs to focus on making their teams full time, providing more coaching hours for their players and ultimately drawing in as many crowds as possible, as well as allowing for more tv coverage.”

Initially running over the summer, in July 2016 it was agreed that a calendar shift would take place. This moved the WSL to the winter months, to be played between September and May, in line with other divisions across Europe.

In September 2017 it was announced that the top tier of English women’s football will be only for full-time clubs from 2018-19 after proposed changes to Women’s Super League licences were approved by the FA.

This means that all clubs must re-apply for their places in the division, while new teams could earn licences to join the top tier that will have between eight and 14 teams. In addition, top-flight clubs will be required to run an academy under the new criteria.

This is a significant milestone in the progression of the women’s game and is likely to transform key elements, including the quality of resources and the level of performance on the pitch. Houghton explained the positive impact of such a decision.

“I think it’s the right step now, after making it a winter league, to continue this growth and increase our competitiveness on the international stage.

“There are a lot of big clubs pushing to make it more professional and from an international perspective, that is what you want, everyone training full-time and to be as fit as they possibly can be.

As a club, I think Manchester City have set the standards in terms of the professionalism and ensuring we have access to the same resources as the men’s team, both on and off the pitch.”

A leading figure in the English game, both on the pitch for Manchester City and the Three Lionesses, and as an ambassador for UEFA, Houghton recognises the progress of the women’s game. However, she says there still remains room for improvement. 

“I’m happy with how far the game has come.

“To be able to live my dream of being a professional football player and to be at a club like this is unbelievable and I think the games are now more competitive than they ever were, which makes it all that much better.

“The stadium we play in, the pitches we train on, the crowds that we draw in are incredible too, it’s really grown. It’s important that we keep pushing in all those areas.

“You’d like to see regular TV matches every week, which we’re starting to do. I’m optimistic about what the future holds.”

Decisions made regarding the development of the women’s game may largely sit outside of her influence, but on the pitch, Houghton will be hoping to galvanise City’s pursuit of Chelsea at the top of the WSL, while next year’s World Cup in France will be at the forefront of preparations with the Three Lionesses.

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Aston Villa

Exclusive: Albert Adomah – Discovering a scoring streak, promotion hopes and his journey to the top

With 13 Sky Bet Championship goals, Albert Adomah is proving to be the catalyst in Aston Villa’s search for promotion. We catch up with the 30-year-old to discuss the season to date..

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Albert Adomah
Photo: Reuters

Few players have come further in football than Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah.

Whilst many of his Villa team-mates came through the ranks training at the world class facilities of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, his footballing career began at amateur side Old Meadonians.

Whilst studying to become a painter and decorator, his career took off as he moved to join seventh tier club Harrow Borough.

14 goals in 69 games for the London club caught the eye of a host of local non-league and lower league clubs.

Barnet was his eventual destination in January 2008.

Ten years later, and after spells at Bristol City and Middlesbrough, Adomah is taking the Sky Bet Championship by storm.

Discussing his journey to the top with The Boot Room, he revealed that he’s achieved more than he could ever have hoped for as an 18-year-old student playing amateur football at the weekend.

“When I first joined Harrow Borough I had a feeling I would progress to the next level with a hope to one day play at the highest – which is the Premier League and international football and I’ve managed to achieve both of those.

“I wanted to work my way up and I’ve managed to achieve that.”

After play-off heartbreak with Middlesbrough in 2015, Adomah was key to earning his side promotion to the top flight, missing only ten league games across three seasons at the Riverside club.

The winger made his Premier League debut in a draw against Stoke on the opening day of the 2016/17 season under Aitor Karanka, but little did he know that his substitute appearance the following week would be his last for the club.

Summer reinforcements to strengthen the squad to first division quality, after Adomah had helped to get the club left there, and a reported fall out with boss Karanka, left him surplus to requirements.

The now 30-year-old says that he was left with no choice but to leave Tyneside.

“It was time to move on and Aston Villa is a big club with great fans and a lot of history, it felt like a huge opportunity for me.”

By moving to Villa Park, he ensured that he was moving to one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest, in the English Football League.

Boasting some of the highest attendances in the country, even despite relegation in 2016, there is no denying that the sway of the club has an impact on its players.

“It’s a massive club so when you go out onto the pitch you want to perform well and do well for the club and the main objective of the day is to get the points.”

After years of underperformance, the 2017/18 season finally looks to be putting Aston Villa back on the map with a mid-season revival seeing Steve Bruce’s side climb the table and enter contention for promotion.

For Adomah too, it has been a remarkable season.

“So far on a personal level I think I’ve been doing really well, scoring goals and as a team we have been doing great.

“The result at the weekend didn’t go our way but all we can do is learn from it, work harder and aim to put that right.” 

By averaging almost a goal every other game, with 14 from 29 in all competitions, to date, he has already far surpassed his personal best of 12 goals in 42 games with Middlesbrough in 2013/14.

Cutting in from out wide, his positioning, pace, power and smart finishing has been crucial to his team’s success, leading the club’s goalscoring charts, ahead of the likes of multi-million pound centre forwards Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia.

His goals and assists have contributed a huge 18 points to Villa’s fight to return to the top flight, and he is not ready to take the foot off the gas just yet.

Despite now being deployed out wide, Adomah feels that his past experience through the middle has been pivotal to his success.

“I used to be a striker so when I’m in that position I always have a good feeling I’ll get a chance to score – it’s all about hitting the target.

“Lately whenever I shoot it seems to go in.”

Boss Steve Bruce has even called upon the number 37 to beat the Championship record of goals from a player who isn’t a striker, a record currently set at 20 by then-Cardiff ace Peter Whittingham.

With the business end of the season still to come, that certainly looks achievable, but Adomah is taking his campaign one step at a time.

“Every season my target is 10 goals and 10 assists and so far I have exceeded one of my targets, my next aim would be 15 goals and if I can do that I’ll aim for 20 goals but I try not to put pressure on myself.”

It has been some turnaround for Adomah too, considering that he started only one of Villa’s first six games in 2017/18.

The signing of Bruce favourite Ahmed Elmohamady and loan deals for West Ham flop Robert Snodgrass and Tottenham starlet Josh Onomah upped the pressure on an already crowded area of the squad, with the likes of Andre Green and Jack Grealish getting better and better.

Having celebrated his 30th birthday this season, it would be logical that Adomah would be the player to make way. Instead, he has taken a step up.

Age is just a number to one of Villa’s more experienced professionals, who insists that it is hard work on the training ground that is seeing him improve as he matures into the twilight years of his career.

“I work hard at the training ground to improve myself and on the pitch you try to avoid making mistakes but if they do happen you look to the next game to put it right and learn from it.”

Bruce has, understandably, spoken of the importance of keeping players like Adomah, who he has described as “a catalyst”, at the club if they are to be taken seriously in their quest to return to their rightful place in the Premier League.

Promotion put an end to Adomah’s time at Middlesbrough, but he insists that he is happy at Villa and wants to commit his long term future to the club.

“If a 10 year contract was put on the table I would sign that today.

“I’m loving my time at Villa, it’s going really well and things are going well for the team.

“My family love living in the Midlands so if I was offered a contract I would sign it.”

Having only played for four clubs since going professional, having played over 100 games for all four, he is a loyal man, and he is ready to reap the rewards of that loyalty in Birmingham.

“Yes staying at one club definitely helps, I think it helps in the long run and it’s good for your family life.

“For me as an individual, I have a family so it’s good to have them settled in one place.”

His goal in the derby in February, a moment he says he will tell his grandchildren about, endeared him even more to the fans at Villa Park.

The club’s rise up the table is not yet complete, though, and Adomah is insistent that his side must have their sights set high for the remaining three months of the season.

The team are leading the chasing pack behind Wolves and their nearest competitors, Cardiff, but Adomah believes that he and his team-mates must be ready to pounce if either side slips up.

“We just need to keep on doing well and chase Wolves as they are doing great.

“If we chase Wolves we will have a great chance of automatic promotion and if Wolves slip up perhaps we could win the league… But everything is down to our performances.”

With that success, Adomah could return to one of his greatest achievements: playing Premier League football.

Capped 15 times by Ghana, scoring two goals, he also fulfilled the other dream by appearing for his nation, Ghana.

Making his debut in 2011 under Goran Stevanovic, he became a regular under Kwesi Appiah, featuring in all but one game as the Black Eagles finished fourth in the African Cup of Nations in 2013.

Adomah even fulfilled a dream that seemed so impossible on the parks of south London only six years previously by taking to the pitch in the 2014 World Cup as a substitute as Ghana were beaten by the USA.

The versatile wideman has only made one appearance since, scoring in a friendly under Avram Grant in 2015, but with Appiah now back at the helm and Adomah in the form of his life, it would be premature to rule out a return to the international scene.

“It was a great achievement to go away with my national team and play on the biggest stage in the world. I managed to play 15 minutes against America but unfortunately we lost that game but it’s wonderful to say I was part of the World Cup.

“Hopefully if they call me again I can do a duty for them, I will continue to play well for my club and hope that I get a call.”

Adomah’s story is one of football’s most inspiring, and earning promotion to the Premier League with one of England’s biggest clubs as the leading man would be a fitting chapter to add to an already incredible tale.

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