Hull City have a Championship return in their sights heading into the League One run-in, with Mallik Wilks spearheading their resurgence under Grant McCann and starting to really realise his potential in the Football League.
Wilks progressed through the Leeds United academy and was full of promise, but made just one senior appearance for the Whites in the FA Cup. A loan spell with Doncaster under McCann was impressive, and convinced Barnsley to take a punt on a permanent transfer in 2019.
However, there’s no denying that the forward’s career was drifting until McCann, who was now with Hull, moved to reunite with the forward at the KCOM Stadium.
The 22-year-old was unable to prevent Hull slipping out of the Championship last season, but he has been able to kick the Tigers back into life in some style in 2020/21.
As our graphic above shows, Wilks has scored 20 goals this season for the Tigers and registered two assists, outperforming his expected goals by some distance and matching his expected assists. 17 of those goals have come in League One, as McCann’s side top the third-tier and will look to manoeuvre themselves back into the Championship at the first time of asking.
It is, by some stretch, Wilks’ best season in senior football, and it could get better with nine games remaining.
Football League World understand that there will be Burnley’s eyes on those final nine games of the season, with the Clarets impressed by what they are seeing from Wilks. They plan to monitor the forward as they weigh up whether to open negotiations with Hull over a transfer fee.
Beyond the goals, though, what would Burnley be getting their hands on if they moved for Wilks? League One to the Premier League is a big step up; even the impressive Ivan Toney looks to be using the Championship as a stepping stone to the top-flight.
Whether Wilks can take a different path to the top remains to be seen, but it is hard to not be impressed by what he’s done this season for the Tigers.
As per Wyscout, the 22-year-old averages 4.09 touches in the penalty area per 90, as well as 2.87 shots on target and 2.74 progressive runs.
These are really positive numbers and really underline how forward-thinking Wilks likes to be. Chris Wood – Burnley’s key striker – averages just 3.17 touches in the penalty area per 90 and 1.64 shots on target in 2020/21, with Wilks outperforming the New Zealand international in these departments.
Of course, you must consider that Wood is playing at a higher level and in a system that doesn’t exactly scream ambition, but Wilks’ drive to be a goal threat does catch your eye even at League One level. Simply, getting into these positions, whatever level you are at, gives you a chance of scoring goals.
The following heat map shows the type of area Wilks likes to play in, with the Leeds graduate comfortable across the forward line and not cemented into one role in the attack. He offers a goal threat if he plays out wide, plus unpredictability if he comes through the middle off the right.
There are areas to improve on: Wilks wins an average of 6.48 aerial duels per 90 and has a pass success of only 68% this season. The towering presence of Wood at Burnley averages over 10 successful aerial duels, whilst Wilks’ retention of the ball would have to be better in the Premier League.
However, it’s also worth noting that over half of Wilks’ attempted passes are looking to play forwards, so even then you can offer that 68% some slack given it’s as a result of positive play.
On the whole, that positivity that Wilks has brought to Hull this season has helped stopped the slide that’s taken the club from the Premier League to League One.
Wilks’ task over the next nine games is a simple one in helping Hull win promotion back into the Championship.
That could, in turn, open the door of the Premier League to the 22-year-old.