Departing winger divided opinion
MARTIN Petrov was the wing wizard who exemplified Owen Coyle’s all-out attacking ethos – and also the man who often exposed the flaw in his grand plan.
As the Bulgaria international prepares to quit Wanderers after two-and-a-half years, opinion appears to be split on the terraces about his time at the Reebok.
On one hand, you had a player whose fearsome left foot could still cross a ball as accurately as anyone in the Championship, and arguably the level above.
Many felt that without his presence in the team, Wanderers lacked incision, and he was certainly one of the few who could have fans singing his name just seconds after chastising him for an errant pass.
There was always something enigmatic about Petrov from the moment he signed from Manchester City, snood and all, to become Coyle’s prized capture of the summer.
Inconsistency was an issue from the off. By the time his first goal came along, against Manchester United, some were questioning his inclusion ahead of the more defensively reliable Matty Taylor.
Indeed, some point out that the much-maligned Paul Robinson looked more comfortable with the extra insurance of Taylor playing in front of him than he ever did with anyone else.
Further strikes came against Spurs and Blackpool, both as a substitute, and, though knee problems that had ruined Petrov’s career at City never surfaced in his time with the Whites, his absences from the team did become more frequent as the campaign went along.
Many of Petrov’s critics will point to the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Stoke City as his lowest ebb in a Wanderers shirt. Sacrificed at half time for Mark Davies, the midfielder’s body language that afternoon at Wembley told its own tale.
The next season provided few highlights, for Petrov or otherwise, but his performances in the final few months earned the winger a more regular place in Coyle’s struggling side, triggering the option of an extra year on his contract.
It was hoped his experience and skill would blaze a trail in the Championship, but like many of the Whites’ Premier League alumni, the reality was different.
Petrov paid the price for a poor show at Burnley on the opening day and did not start again in the league until after Coyle’s sacking.
Interim management team of Jimmy Phillips and Sammy Lee brought him back into the fold, and he repaid them handsomely, scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory over Bristol City.
After Dougie Freedman’s arrival, however, the chances were limited again.
He started the 2-2 draw at Blackpool but some questioned whether he had the discipline to adapt to the Scot’s new system. Others believe his fitness level was not high enough to please the meticulous Glaswegian.
And yet, regardless of his struggles, fans continued to sing his name as he played a rare 90 minutes against Sunderland in the FA Cup.
As one of the squad’s biggest earners, his exit from the Reebok could be viewed as a matter of pure economics but Petrov’s age – 34 on Thursday – would have undoubtedly played its part.
Ultimately, Petrov’s 75 appearances in a Wanderers shirt provided some stunning highlights. But the long play version made less impressive viewing.