Mark Duffy prepared to play anywhere to help Scunthorpe United cause
NOT so long ago, Mark Duffy was picking up man of the match awards like they were going out of fashion.
Scunthorpe United's best player in the opening few months, he was invariably at the heart of most of their attacking moves.
It is one of the peculiarities of the second half to this crazy season that as the Iron have gone forward, the winger's performances have gone backward.
Nowhere near as influential or as effective, Duffy has struggled for form and goals (Tuesday's superb strike to topple Stevenage was only his fifth of the campaign).
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So, what's happened?
It is a conundrum the Liverpudlian has been trying to figure out himself.
"Portsmouth a few weeks ago was probably one of the most nervous I've ever been on a football pitch," he explained.
"I literally couldn't pass the ball five yards.
"I came off the pitch scratching my head and thinking, 'how has that just happened?'.
"The gaffer (Brian Laws) sat me down and spoke to me.
"He said because the team want me to impress and get on the ball and do things, you're trying to over-impress.
"He said to just take it back to doing simple things, pass and move – that's when I'm at my best.
"Before, I was the one who was getting a little bit of the praise, but maybe the players around me at the time weren't playing to their levels.
"You can see now around the pitch, the likes of Jimmy Ryan and Mickey Collins have been unbelievable the last month-and-a-half.
"It's not just me now, the lads around me are all picking their games up.
"Long may it continue because they've been brilliant.
"Tuesday was a little bit better for me performance-wise.
"First half I wasn't so good but I could have scored.
"But I picked it up in the second half and got my goal.
"Hopefully Saturday, at Brentford, will be another better performance and I'll try to find that form again."
Some may have linked this blip with the January transfer window and all the distractions that brings.
The Iron's most sellable asset insists that wasn't the case.
However, he concedes a persistent virus has taken its toll.
"I've lost quite a bit of weight and had quite a few days off," said the 26-year-old.
"I've just been trying to get over it and battle through it.
"It affects your energy levels.
"You start the game and usually when you would burst through and have that extra yard, you find yourself feeling a little bit tired and drowsy.
"You can probably tell by some of my performances, they've been well below par.
"I'm over it now and hopefully, with a bit of food down me, I can get my energy levels back up.
"I'm not going to make excuses, I haven't been anywhere near at it.
"The gaffer's asked me to play a lot more inside and try to be more compact to make us harder to beat.
"Whereas under the old manager (Alan Knill), I was really wide and was free to come inside and do as I please.
"But as long as the team's winning I'm happy."
He was asked to play a different role again in midweek.
With United missing Akpo Sodje, Duffy was deployed in the hole off Karl Hawley,
It is a position he enjoys playing in, though admittedly, it seems he enjoyed his goal even more.
"I had three good chances, not half-chances, really good chances," the former Morecambe man said of that 1-0 victory.
"Over the last couple of games I've had other good chances as well, so I could quite easily be on 10 goals.
"I look back at some of the chances and think, 'ugh, if only they had gone in'.
"It's something I want to add a little bit more to my game and get in the box a little bit more.
"When I play in the position I did on Tuesday, in the hole, I seem to get those chances a lot more, so long may it continue.
"It's a role I'd like to play a little bit more and the gaffer said he would like to play me there a little bit more.
"It was difficult on that pitch because it's really bobbly, so the gaffer was screaming at me to let it go a little bit early.
"But I said to him, it was taking two touches to get it under control.
"On a better pitch I'd like to have a real go at it.
"I'm happy to play anywhere but I do like that role.
"If he wants me to play out wide, I'll play there and if he wants me to play left wing, I'll play there – it's just what's best for the team."
If it leads to a few more results like Tuesday's there will be no complaints as United gear themselves up for a final survival push.
"You always find with the mid-table teams there's always one or two who drop down," Duffy said of the relegation battle.
"The ones at the bottom have been scrapping all season, so come towards the end of the season they're right up for it, whereas the ones in the middle are just trying to take it easy and looking forward to their holidays!
"The gaffer won't let us take our foot of the gas. You want to hear him when we get beat – he's raging at us!
"Which is good because you don't want to get complacent."