Tunchev must earn his stripes once more
Aleksander Tunchev has an uneasy relationship with English cup competitions. Deepdale in the League Cup was a difficult place to make his first start since injury last season against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. He looked understandably off the pace in the early stages and was largely at fault for Preston's equaliser which then took a strong deflection off his fellow defender Chris Powell. Tunchev's current situation marks an unforeseeable role reversal from his first six months in a blue shirt. The Bulgarian was imperious at the heart of the City defence as League One strikeforces up and down the country found goals hard to come by when Leicester came to town. He was the star man in a side destined for the Championship.
Then, in a poorly-attended encounter not unlike that at Deepdale last night, disaster struck. Twisting awkwardly on the Selhurst Park turf, Tunchev left the field in agony and was ruled out for the rest of the season. There were other players rested that night as Nigel Pearson looked to concentrate on securing promotion, but it was Tunchev who was left to watch that achievement from the sidelines with Jack Hobbs, Michael Morrison and new signing Wayne Brown taking turns to fill his boots with considerable success.
With Hobbs and Brown beginning this season brilliantly at the back, the Bulgarian's return from injury has been less celebrated than it otherwise would have been. He will, of course, become an important part of our season at some stage, dependent on injury, illness, suspension or simple loss of form on the part of the current central defensive pairing.
His reading of the game, physical superiority and aerial dominance make a fully-fit Tunchev a formidable opponent for any centre-forward. The vast majority of City fans will still have total confidence in his future selection despite a shaky return to action. His main quality, in contrast to his predecessors Gareth McAuley and Patrick Kisnorbo, is a total mastery of the simple ball out of defence.
There has been much discussion over how much of this has been down to the vastly improved options in front of the back four since Pearson took over. Makeshift midfields have made way for the current order in which Richie Wellens and Matt Oakley find space with regularity and there is pace in abundance down the flanks. Add the perfect outlet up front in Steve Howard and it is understandable that the distribution from the back has improved since relegation but Tunchev still looks a cut above, often controlling and passing when others would clear awkwardly.
The probability is that Tunchev is still adapting to English football and will continue to do so throughout this season in the same way that key League One performers such as Lloyd Dyer and Andy King will be forced to acclimatise to the Championship. If the Bulgarian possesses mental strength to equal the physical power displayed on the pitch, it may not be long before he is dominating Championship attacks on a consistent basis.