One to Watch: Callum Morton
Callum Morton stood out as Northampton Town clinched an unlikely promotion to League 1, not least for his relentless running and red hair. George Ford looks at his crucial six-month spell at the Cobblers.
Callum Morton burst onto the scene in League 2 in the second half of last season, after joining Northampton Town on loan from West Bromwich Albion.
The 20-year-old forward was signed by West Brom after scoring against their under-18 team in an FA Youth Cup tie as a 16-year-old for his former club, Yeovil Town. After an impressive start to his in West Bromwich career with the club’s under-18 side, he stepped up to play to under-23 football, featuring regularly in the Premier League 2 throughout the 2017/18 season as a 17-year-old.
After starting the 2018/19 season playing with under-23 side, Morton took his first steps into senior football and placed at National League side Braintree. He scored 5 goals in 15 appearances before his impressive progress was halted when he suffered a ruptured ACL, which would rule him out for nine months. That injury did little to stifle his development, though. Having returned to action in PL2, he stepped up another senior level with a January loan move to Northampton Town in League 2, the fourth-tier of the professional pyramid – and the relentless, red-haired forward went from strength to strength.
In his first month in the Football League, Morton was awarded the division's Player of the Month accolade having notched five goals in his first seven appearances for the Cobblers. He had already begun attracting suitors for his services for the following season, and was finding his feet at senior level when the league season was curtailed by COVID–19.
However, Morton’s performances – and goals – had done enough to secure Northampton a play-off spot by virtue of points per game. He had a final opportunity to showcase his talents when football returned. At the semi-final stage, Northampton fell to a 2-0 defeat at home to Cheltenham Town. They managed to flip the tie on its head in the second leg though, with two Morton goals inspiring Keith Curle's team to a 3-0 win, and an extraordinary day out to Wembley. In the final, the Cobblers managed to defeat a highly-regarded Exeter City side. Morton took the game in his stride, scoring the second of four goals – his ultimate involvement as Northampton completed an unlikely promotion push that he was crucial to.
Strikers are almost always initially judged on their goalscoring output, and Morton’s numbers stack up in that regard. According to FBRef data, he had the best conversion rate of all players in League 2 – 33% of his shots resulted in goals (eight from 24 shots). Another standout stat is 83% of his shots on target resulted in goals, which makes him the league leader in this metric too. Those figures indicate that the forward relies on getting into good shooting locations when he shoots, as opposed to being a high volume shooter; he only took 2.3 shots per 90, compared to the league high of 4.5 per 90.
Below is a good example of a certain type of goal that Morton scored on a couple of occasions during the 2019/20 season. The 20-year-old has great game understanding for his age, and his off-ball movement highlights that quite clearly. In the clips below, he exhibits energy in the box and shows that he likes to play on the shoulder of defenders, drifting off them to pick up good scoring positions in the middle of the goal.
Below is another example of a goal where he plays the ball out wide, then attacking across the front post – a movement that is difficult to mark – and drifting into a scoring position.
One of his main strengths is his ability to run in behind and stretch defences. His pace and powerful running can drag defenders out of position and create confusion in the back line. He is aggressive when closing down opposition defenders and is willing to chase lost causes. This aggressive pressing style actually led to him scoring a goal against Grimsby, see below, where the defender misplaced a pass and he managed to capitalise on the mistake.
There is more to Morton's game than just being a finisher, though. He has the ability to bring team-mates into play, showcasing good composure in and around the penalty area. He has 5.4 touches in the opposition box per 90 (third of all League 2 strikers), and 53% of his dribbles are successful. Although he didn’t register an assist this season in nearly 1,000 minutes of football, his xG Assisted per 90 tally of 0.14 ranks him among the most creative strikers in the league. See this clip below from the play-off final, a good example of his ability to create a chance for a team-mate.
The loanee was very impressive, especially considering he only played a dozen matches in the Football League having just returned from a serious knee injury. It would be fair to suggest that Morton would likely have been even sharper, even more potent, even more Morton, had he been afforded a healthy pre-season plan.
As West Brom head back up to the Premier League, another loan to an EFL side would probably be best for Morton’s development – and is the likely outcome. Expect to see him loaned to a League 1 club, where he can play plenty of minutes before West Brom could re-assess his progression and perhaps package him off to another level in January. He will be one to watch, and Morton has the potential to light up the EFL over the coming seasons.
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