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Having progressed through the Everton academy, Jon Nolan failed to progress into the Toffees’ first-team and, following his release from Goodison Park, found himself on the football scrapheap.
Unable to find a club willing to take him in the Football League, the central midfielder joined recently-relegated Stockport County in the Summer of 2011 as they looked to bounce back out of non-league at the first time of asking.
That did not prove to be the case for the Hatters, and Nolan suffered two years of disappointment at Edgeley Park: a 16th place finish followed by the ignominy of relegation to the sixth tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history.
Not willing to go part-time as per the club, Nolan stayed in the National League with a move to Lincoln City and appeared 73 times during his three seasons at Sincil Bank, his most successful spell at a club to date. However, he was also farmed out to Wrexham for the first half of the 2015-16 campaign.
Having regularly captured Grimsby manager Paul Hurst’s eye during their battles over the years, Hurst swooped to take Nolan to Blundell Park when he became aware of the diminutive scouser’s availability.
It was a successful if somewhat brief spell together for Hurst and Nolan, with 18 outings (Including two at Wembley), four goals and one promotion secured. Alas, despite the Mariners’ return back to the hallowed 92, Nolan opted for a move to League One to link up with Danny Wilson at Chesterfield.
He only stayed in Derbyshire for one ultimately disappointing season (The Spireites relegated to the basement division) before linking back up with ex-manager Hurst, who had moved to Shrewsbury Town in the meantime.
It has been a dream start to life at Salop for the 25-year-old, his side defying the odds to sit top of the table after 16 games. Nolan has found the net three times in 15 matches to date, and his sublime performances have found him many admirers from within the Shrews faithful
The most notable asset of Nolan’s game is his passing vision and ability. Extremely adept at keeping and recycling possession, he rarely gives the ball away and is very comfortable when receiving the ball under pressure. Seldom dispossessed, he holds an ability to spot and execute inch-perfect passes capable of breaking the defensive lines of an opposing team. Regularly feeding passes to his more offensive colleagues with perfect weight and direction, he is a key cog in the Shrewsbury attacking machine.
His outstanding distribution of the ball is made much easier due to his talent at receiving the ball from colleagues. Head-positioning, body-positioning and awareness of those around are crucial when taking on possession, and Nolan displays an impressive capacity at all three. Frequently checking his shoulders prior to taking on the ball, he always appears to know what he wants to do with the ball before he receives it. Next, he will adjust his body shape instantly upon acquiring possession in order to achieve his aims, all the while scanning to see where and when he can make that killer pass. Nolan’s ability to combine all three proves him to be a supremely skilled ball-player.
Always keen to advance the play when he is in control, a great virtue of his game is his aptitude at driving at and beyond the opposing midfield. Capable of taking multiple players out of the game as a result, he can scythe gaps through opponents at ease with the way he drifts and glides across the pitch.
Nolan combines all of the aforementioned qualities to give him great versatility within midfield. He can play off the back foot, receive the ball from the back four and dictate the play from a deeper role with his use of the ball as well as he can play in-front of a deeper midfield two and use his engine to act like a ‘number ten’ and look to drive at the heart of a side. When driving from deep this can be harder for him to be nullified through one-to-one marking, and is a tactic used very successfully by Hurst this year.
With his position putting him in the midst of most of the hard-hitting action within a game, Nolan can sometimes be let down by his rash tackling. Sometimes producing wild decisions when battling for the ball, he has two red cards for mistimed lunges from last season to illustrate his somewhat hot-headed nature.
Additionally, the Huyton-born player can also be reluctant to fire off shots at goal when given the opportunity. Many situations arise when the opportunity points towards testing the goalkeeper, however Nolan can look for an extra, unnecessary pass or playing in a teammate even when in a lesser position than himself.
Nolan possesses all of the characteristics to play at a very high level. Becoming a shining light in only his second year in the third tier, it will surely only be a matter of time before he is plying his trade at the level above – whether that be with his current employers or at pastures new.