DANNY Sleath is heading home – with a medal round his neck. And boy, are Boston United glad to see him.
The Pilgrims midfielder missed the opening four games of the season as he represented Great Britain in the World University Games in China. And while he played an integral role in helping GB reach the tournament’s final for the first time, the United fans on the other side of the world have been longing for his return.
With no disrespect to fellow midfielders Ben Wilkinson, Adam Millson, Ben Milnes and Chris Hall, Sleath’s adventures in Shenzhen have left a void in the centre of the park, especially as the club’s injury list is growing longer than a Liam Parker throw-in.
Sleath’s contribution to the cause is so wide-ranging. He can tackle, break down play, create counter attacks and chip in with a few goals of his own as well.
He is the all-round midfielder, and this season is his time to shine.
Sleath arrived at the Jakemans Stadium two summers ago and, since then, has unfairly been seen as Anthony Church’s understudy.
Church gained the plaudits as he played with heart, while Sleath crept into the background as he opted to rely more on his brain.
And that’s the way the 24-year-old likes it. At the players’ end-of-season meal earlier this year, Sleath was called to the stage to give his verdict on the campaign. He refused, sitting in his chair, arms folded, shaking his head.
While Church offers just as much bravado off the pitch, his former midfield partner again prefers to sit back and analyse.
But, I’m afraid Danny, that luxury could be over.
With Church gone, all eyes are now on Sleath.
In the summer, he suggested that his mate’s departure could give him more opportunities to push forward and score the goals he craves.
It will also offer him the limelight he shirks.
But there is no doubt that the former Mansfield Town and Ilkeston man has the pedigree to succeed again this season.
In the 2009-10 campaign when Boston earned promotion to the Blue Square Bet North, also winning the UniBond Cup and Lincs Senior Shield, Sleath played in every single competitive fixture bar one, the shield match at Lincoln United.
Of those 52 matches he played, only two saw him begin on the bench. He also chipped in with 10 goals that season.
The last campaign saw him make 39 stars, seven appearances from the bench, and score five times. A draw at Eastwood and cup victory over Gainsborough were the only occasions he didn’t get brought on, while he was rested for the shield final against Stamford.
The stats - and Boston’s indifferent start this season - don’t lie. Sleath plays a vital role... although he’ll be the last to tell you.
He prefers to let his feet do the talking, and his availability this weekend will be a massive bonus. Let’s just hope he doesn’t lose his luggage on the flight home and ends up without his boots.