With hints of what he could bring to replace what has been lacking since Louie Barry’s injury, Rico Richards has ignited life in Stockport County.

The youthful forward seemed to burst out of his shell when handed 45 minutes against Salford City, and he backed it up with another strong showing against Crawley Town, following a few brief and quiet appearances for County.

Prior to his injury, Barry, his on-loan Villa partner, was highly regarded for his ability to move forward with the ball at his feet and beat defenders. Richards has demonstrated he might be able to fill that void.

Barring any setbacks, Barry should be back at Edgeley Park before the season ends. However, a specific return date has not yet been set.

Rico Richards’ self-assurance is rising.

Aside from a few brief cameos for West Brom prior to joining Villa, Richards’ playing stint at County marks some of his initial steps toward becoming a senior football player.

It makes sense, then, that when he put on the blue and white shirt for the first few times, it took him some time to get used to it and start playing the game.

In those admittedly brief early appearances, manager Dave Challinor made a statement about the 20-year-old’s relative shyness, suggesting that he wasn’t always aggressive for the ball or didn’t position himself in the best possible ways on the field.

Dave Challinor for Stockport County

After Richards played the entire second half of the Salford game, the manager commented to club reporters, “Rico knows what he needs to do.” Technically, he is an excellent football player who can play either side and create high-caliber moments, as we have seen in training.

He is a very, very quiet young man. While he is by no means conceited and occasionally lacks confidence, given his skill set, he ought to be.

Richards has displayed his full potential and seems to have gained the confidence to utilize his natural ability, something that will only get better as he continues to put up strong performances. However, Richards has had more time to develop into games over the previous week.

For many Hatters supporters, seeing some of these players play at Edgeley Park once more would be a visual feast.
He might add the component that Louie Barry lost.

This season, County’s build-up play has occasionally gotten repetitive. A game will frequently come down to passing the ball up to Kyle Wootton, the target guy, hoping he will hold up and then finding other players to enter the game.

Although the players are capable of using this strategy, it has proven effective in the past. However, as defenders double up on Wootton, they almost completely manhandle him out of the game.

Richards’ games in numbers, via FotMob
Stat vs Salford vs Crawley
Minutes played 45 62
Pass accuracy 27% 69%
Successful dribbles 5/7 (71%) 3/4 (75%)
Tackles won 0/0 (0%) 3/4 (75%)
Recoveries 4 4
Ground duels won 6/9 (67%) 7/10 (70%)
Aerial duels won 3/3 (100%) 2/3 (67%)
The Hatters boss proclaimed the signing a ‘coup’ and his performances since have lived up to the hype

Richards could be vital for the run-in, in more ways than one

Another striking, and quite unexpected, feature of Richards’ recent appearances is his ability and desire to get stuck in and help out with the defensive work when necessary.

On multiple occasions, particularly against Crawley, the young Villa man’s counter-press when he had lost the ball trying to progress the play was impressive, as was his ability and desire to track runners and win the ball back before the Crawley wide men could spring a cross into the box.

That sort of commitment and drive is exactly what Challinor will want in his squad as the team enters a tough, and tightly-contested, League Two run-in.

League Two Table (as it stands 26 March)
Team P GD Pts
1 Mansfield Town 38 42 72
2 Stockport County 37 30 68
3 Wrexham 38 20 67
4 MK Dons 39 14 67
5 Crewe Alexandra 38 12 64
6 Barrow 37 12 61
7 AFC Wimbledon 39 11 57
8 Walsall 38 5 56

Barry stated in an interview with the club earlier this year that he should now be back in training. However, with a muscle injury, every situation is unique, so it’s unclear if he’ll be able to fully recover in time for the season’s conclusion and whether his form will return.

Up until then, it seems like County may have found Richards to replace the directness that Barry lost, as well as the extra defensive capabilities needed in close games that will undoubtedly force the Hatters to dig deep.

The young starlet’s confidence seems to have grown over the last week. Edgeley Park will now be hoping that his enhanced self-assurance and innate talent will be the catalyst for him to close the season with the same fervor that his Villa teammate Barry started it with.