Mitoma magic brings wingers to the fore

Mitoma magic brings wingers to the fore

Brighton’s Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma rightly grabbed the headlines last weekend when he scored a stunning late winner to knock defending champions Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

It wasn’t just the goal, but his all-round performance that caught the eye of fans and pundits as he gave Liverpool’s England fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold the run-around for much of the match.

The winning goal in the 92nd minute was a masterpiece.

In the crowded penalty area, he cushioned the ball, flicked it over Joe Gomez and volleyed home.

Regular Brighton fans will not be surprised at 25-year-old Mitoma’s performance.

Ever since he first appeared as a sub early in the season, he has looked the real deal and has added punch to the Seagulls’ forward line.

He is exciting to watch as he takes on defenders in a way rarely seen these days.

Mitoma has only played 14 games for the Seagulls but has created several goals for his teammates as well as scoring four.

Mitoma’s dribbling skills are impressive which should come as no surprise as he wrote his university thesis on “dribbling”.

One of Mitoma’s admirers is veteran teammate Adam Lallana.

“His one-on-one ability is sensational,” said Lallana. “He can go past players so easily.”

Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi knows he’s got a good one.

“I love him because he is a fantastic player and a fantastic guy,” De Zerbi said last week. “He works for the team.”

Brighton signed Mitoma from Kawasaki Frontale for a mere £2.6 million, which is a true bargain when you consider the ludicrous sums Chelsea have been splashing out.

Mitoma admits that since he joined Brighton, he’s been “in better form than I expected.”

He also knows it will be tough to maintain such high performances levels.

“I need to keep creating chances and make my presence felt,” he said.

He has certainly achieved that.

Some of my fondest memories in football have featured wingers as they frequently provide the best entertainment for spectators.

The first time I saw Stanley Matthews play was that memorable day at Wembley in 1953 in what became known as the “Matthews Final.”

The closing moments of that match were the stuff of legend with Blackpool sneaking a dramatic 4-3 victory thanks primarily to the slender 38-year-old man with the baggy shorts on the right wing.

The sometimes forgotten Stan Mortenson played his part too with a hat-trick.

Matthews’ dribbling skills even at that age were a sight to behold.

Like Mitoma, he would run at defenders who would back off before making a desperate lunge at which point Stan gave a little shimmy and was gone.

Another outstanding winger during the Matthews era was Preston’s Tom Finney who was effective at any position in the forward line.

Nicknamed the “Preston Plumber’’ because he worked in his father’s plumbing business, Finney scored 210 goals in 473 appearance for Preston.

His England performances were equally impressive, scoring 30 goals in 76 appearances.

Then along came George Best in the 1960s.

It is hard to explain just how exciting it was to see Best in full flow in his Manchester United shirt.

Best was particularly effective on muddy pitches which were common.

He would leave defenders floundering in the mud before setting up Bobby Charlton or Denis Law to score, or scoring himself.

Best was forever being clattered by defenders in what would be red card tackles these days.

But he seldom complained, picking himself up and getting on with it. If only modern day players had that attitude.

One winger I was fortunate enough to watch closely at Stamford Bridge in the late 1960s was Chelsea’s Charlie Cooke.

The Scot often made mistakes, but he was so much fun to watch.

There was always a buzz of excitement in the crowd when Charlie got the ball because they knew something would happen.

He would sprint down the wing sometimes beating two or three at a time. He often ended up in a heap on the floor, but it was entertainment.

We can only hope Mitoma maintains the promise he has shown this season. But can the Seagulls hang on to him?

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