There was a lovely moment post-match on Sunday when Odion Ighalo was asked by the Sky Sports’ tunnel reporter to pass the man-of-the-match champagne to Troy Deeney.
“Thanks a lot mate,” said Deeney. “It’s the first thing he has passed me all day.”
Some would say all season.
Ighalo is not known for his selflessness or awareness of his teammates (see any number of times better-placed players have thrown their hands up in frustration) but his greediness and eye for goal is a trait possessed by all top predators. Deeney has it too (you don’t get 65 goals in three Championship seasons without it) but he is a more rounded player than his Nigerian sidekick, as he showed with the awareness and weight of pass to pick out Valon Behrami to make the assist for the third goal on Sunday.
Aside from the fact they place huge importance on family and have a love for scoring goals, the pair are actually contrastingly different characters. One drives a sports car, the other a 4×4. You wouldn’t find Ighalo ringside at an Anthony Joshua fight nor, by the same token, would you see Deeney in church. Deeney is a Birmingham City fan, Ighalo supports Manchester United. Ighalo is multi-lingual while Deeney speaks “English and English”.
They are cut from a different cloth yet, for whatever reason, they just click. Deeney is yin to Ighalo’s yang.
“I remember watching a documentary on Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, and it took a while but they were a real force,” Deeney said in a a pre-match interview with Sky. “It just works with us.”
It didn’t always and it took a while for them to hit it off. They did not start together until the 3-1 win over Millwall in November last year and Ighalo didn’t score while Deeney was on the field until the 3-1 defeat at Huddersfield in January. They scored in the same game for the first time against Charlton Athletic and did it again a week later, in the rout at Blackpool. That was, if you remember, Ben Watson’s first appearance for the club.
“They are two old-school centre forwards,” said Watson. “We play two up and a lot of teams play one up. Iggy’s a natural goalscorer in the right place at the right time. Then Troy goes about this business and he throws people about but it’s not only that – he’s excellent with his feet. Both of them are. They’re always on the same wavelength, they’re always linking up together. Since I’ve been here they’ve been doing that week in week out and that’s what got us out of the Championship. Those two took all the credit and rightly so. They have continued with it this year. Before we play teams they must watch videos and know all about the two of them but sometimes their play is that good they are difficult to stop. Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say well done. They’ve built a partnership.”
Haven’t they just and it’s not something they spend hours harnessing on the manicured fields of London Colney.
“The gaffer doesn’t really do much work with us going forward,” said Deeney in an interview with Alan Smith on Sky. “He does training ground stuff with us more defensively. We will have to take the credit for the work on creating chances and going forward.”
Quique Sanchez Flores can, however, take credit for the tactical tweak for the Swansea game that saw Deeney play in a slightly withdrawn role and Ighalo asked to lead the line. It was largely born out of the idea to stop Jon-Jo Shelvey from pulling the strings in the quarterback role by getting Deeney to man mark the England midfielder. It has been used ever since as an offensive weapon, resulting in a flurry of goals for Ighalo, then Deeney and now both.
“If Troy gets it, I already start making the runs,” said Ighalo. “It’s just a connection.”
Their understanding is almost telepathic.
“This man Iggy is on fire,” said Deeney. “He is so quick and so strong. I think I have assisted more than four of Iggy’s goals, there are few dodgy decisions there, so I am thinking more like six. He is trying to claim one assist, for the penalty against Man United. I will get on his back more to assist me.”
They are both on the case of every defender in the league and must be a handful to play against. Kurt Zouma and John Terry will certainly be more worried about Deeney and Ighalo than Miguel Britos and Craig Cathcart are about Diego Costa ahead of the Boxing Day showdown.
“We talk to each other and we have to push each other,” said Ighalo. “Troy is captain so he has to talk all the way through. Quique was shouting at me at Sunderland and he came over to me and said, ‘I am not shouting because I am not happy, I am just shouting because I need you to hear what I want you to do’.”
Deeney is never shy in making his opinions known.
“I am always talking to people on the pitch during the game,” the captain said. “Iggy speaks a couple of languages as well so if I need to say something and can’t get it across he will say it for me. I only speak English and English. Plus I am a bit aggressive with how I say things whereas Iggy is more of a diplomat, so when he says things they listen a bit more. And if they don’t and I have to tell them again, they definitely listen the second time.”
The Premier League has certainly sat up and taken notice of the pair who have 17 goals between them. “They get paid the most money as well,” joked Watson.