Monday, 28 July 2014

Hot and cold Bath

A trip to Twerton Park is a good way to remind yourself how much progress CTFC has made as a club in the last 20-odd years.
Back then, Bath City were the sort of club which CTFC aspired to be - I remember Nick Gazzard scoring an equaliser for us there in the Conference under John Murphy's management, and then later there was a landmark FA Cup replay win at home in extra time under Chris Robinson after we drew down there.
Now, see also Hereford United and Worcester City - again clubs that we envied as great old non-League names, but which you go back to now and see grounds which have not been improved or even seen a lick of paint since we went there 20-odd years ago, and are all in desperate need of some TLC ... and Worcester's ground unfortunately is no more.
Saturday's second successive friendly visit to a fellow spa town or city was a hot one. It was warm enough for those of us on the terraces, so goodness knows what it was like for those out on the pitch.
Unfortunately, Bath's gaffer and CTFC legend Lee Howells was on holiday in the Algarve, I bet Twerton was warmer Arch.
In the run-up to the game, we finally (and thankfully) saw an end to the soap operas surrounding Jamie Cureton and Ashley Grimes, so the main focus for us was on our newest arrivals, our new skipper Matt Taylor, who arrived from Bradford and doesn't actually sign properly until next week, and loanee Koby Arthur from Birmingham City.
Taylor lined up in the first half alongside Troy Brown, with Arthur starting on the left as Mark Yates tried out a 4-4-2 system - something he has never managed to get right in the four-and-a-half years of his management, and there are no signs on this evidence that his new-look squad will change that formula.
Our first-half line-up was Carson; Vaughan, M Taylor, Brown, Black; Haworth, Richards, J Taylor, Arthur; Harrison, Gornell.
Both sides found it very tough in the heat, and struggled to create anything worthwhile. We had a lot of possession and got into some good positions in the final third, but failed to test the goalkeeper or really string much of any note together.
I thought Byron Harrison and Terry Gornell both had pretty poor halves, as did Andy Haworth, who was too keen to cut inside rather than trying to go past a man and deliver a cross of some sort (Yates later said he was struggling with a toe problem).
Koby Arthur, playing on the left, was in and out of things with some promising touches, and it was he and Paul Black who provided the two half-decent crosses we got in all half.
In midfield, I thought Richards and Jason Taylor did okay, and both have done well in pre-season overall so far in my view - but there is no doubt that we need that third player in there.
Defensively, Matt Taylor will need some time to bed in, but speaking to him afterwards he is clearly relishing the move and also ready to embrace the role as captain and leader of the side.
Both full-backs had some tricky moments defensively, Black being caught out by Ross Stearn for the Bath goal, and Lee Vaughan was caught napping by a free-kick move which should have brought a goal, but again both of them linked well going forward making good supporting runs without always getting the passes they maybe should have received.
The Bath front two gave Taylor and Troy Brown a few problems, but once again Trevor Carson was not forced into a save of any note, but might be disappointed with the City goal.
At half-time it was no surprise to see Harrison and Haworth come off as they had not been at the races, and also Steve Elliott given 45 minutes in place of Troy Brown, and it was also no shock that we changed the formation.
The line up was now: Carson; Vaughan, M Taylor, Elliott, Black; Richards, J Taylor, Curtis; Sterling-James, Arthur; Gornell.
It meant another chance for Joe Curtis, the triallist from Southampton, and a run-out for Omari Sterling-James, while Arthur moved to the right-hand side and Gornell was given a run down the middle.
We immediately looked a bit more lively, with Elliott bringing some stability at the back and Sterling-James injecting some impetus up front.
Some questions have been asked about Elliott and the assumption has been that he will now become a bit-part player behind Brown and Matt Taylor - but I wouldn't write him off just yet.
Yates was asked afterwards about playing three at the back - he didn't rule it out, but the manager has always favoured four at the back, so I wouldn't hold your breath over that one... but we have competition in that position.
You can add Jack Deaman to that, and he came on for Taylor after an hour, and limped off again with a flea in his ear from the manager, who told him off for playing a similar pass to the one which cost a goal at Leamington and ended up taking a knock on his ankle. Sounds harsh, but he has to learn, said the manager afterwards, and he is right.
That meant Craig Braham-Barrett ended the game at centre-half. I am not sure if he has played 20 games there before but let's just hope it was an emergency never to be repeated.
He will play in his regular left-back slot on Tuesday after Black got the 90 there on Saturday and he got better as the game went on and that battle may be too close to call for Bury in two weeks - however I know which of the two most CTFC fans would pick.
Vaughan also got the 90 and also improved as things wore on. There were no alarms for Carson in the second half as we defended a lot better.
We were also better in midfield with Joe Hanks getting 20 minutes in place of Jason Taylor, and while Curtis was again neat and tidy as he had been at Leamington, he doesn't give us anything different to what we could get from Hanks or Harry Williams, and remember we also have Asa Hall, who again missed the game to protect his sore Achilles.
Further forward, the undoubted star was Sterling-James. From the time he came on, his mindset was positive. Get the ball, run at people, and try to make things happen. A real breath of fresh air.
After the game, Yates said he has to be in his thinking for throwing in at Bury, and it is hard to argue against that, as he has shown more than Haworth, more than  Zack Kotwica and more than Gornell in that 'wide forward' role. Arthur may yet come forward to stake a claim, but Sterling-James has to be in pole position.
Kotwica replaced Arthur and was unable to make an impact, and I have to admit to having concerns at his progress.
This time last year, he was the breath of fresh air. He earned himself a place in the first-team squad and had the odd promising cameo, but seems to have flatlined over the last few months of last season and into the start of this one. There is no doubt that this is a big season for him - we know there is talent there but he needs to start showing it, or he faces being overtaken by Arthur and Sterling-James for a place in the squad.
Gornell is another enigma who might find himself as an odd man out. He has looked a bit of a fish out of water in the 'wide' role, as he did last season when played deeper behind the front man in a 4-2-3-1.
He hasn't scored a league goal since October 22, and hasn't often looked like doing so, and he failed to shine in the half-hour he got through the middle on Saturday, before triallist Rakish Bingham replaced him.
Not that Bingham did much better, and, like Curtis, I would not be looking any further at either of them - however a tweet on Sunday from Bingham said: "No better feeling than having a manager who believes in you" and has added to the riddle.
We will find out their futures ahead of Tuesday's game with Bristol City, but with 22 players signed on now, a central midfielder, a forward and a back-up keeper are the final pieces of the jigsaw.
Gornell and Bingham's displays showed for me that we definitely need another forward as otherwise we have an over-reliance on Byron Harrison.
The Shortwood forward Duncan Culley was on trial, and has now had a game for Oxford, scoring in a 10-1 win at Abingdon (who play one level below Shortwood, at the same level as Brimscombe, against whom Culley scored four for Shortwood the other day).
The Oxford trial re-iginited the debate that we didn't give him enough time to impress. But how much time is enough? He trained with us for two weeks and had two 45-minute run-outs, against Evesham and Wolves.
That, for me, is enough time for Yates, Shaun North and the staff to assess him. It was enough time for them to decide that Sterling-James deserved a contract. Same goes for Deaman.
I suspect that had Culley just gone back to Shortwood and not had that game for Oxford the other day then the debate would not have re-surfaced. As far as I am concerned, we looked at him, gave him a go and decided he wasn't right for us. It will be interesting to see what level he lands up at, but I do find it interesting that no Conference Premier, North or Southern Prem sides have had a look at him yet.
Elsewhere, I am glad we still want another midfielder - I'd like one who would be more creative, and attacking in mindset, keen to get beyond the forwards, making runs into the box and with an eye for goal (not too much to ask then...!) and although Matt Taylor has played in goal in an FA Trophy final, he is not Trevor Carson's back-up, so a decision needs to be made about that role as well.
After the game, I asked Mark Yates what was happening about reserve team and/or under 21 football for our younger players, and found out we are not joining a league.
We had the chance to, but it seems the travelling to places like Crawley, Brighton, Orient and Gillingham was prohibitive, which, although disappointing, you can fully understand for a logisitical and financial point of view.
So therefore we are back to organising games ourselves for our fringe and young players and I really hope it happens on a regular basis - it has to, or these players are just going to stagnate.
Let's face it, the club does not have a great record of bringing young players through to the first team. Until they are 18/19, yes, we produce them, but then we don't seem to be able to get them to kick on and really flourish.
We see promise, as we have done with Zack and Joe Hanks, but these two in particular, and behind them Bobbie Dale, Adam Powell, James Bowen and Harry Williams all need to be nurtured, have coaching time invested in them and given the best possible chance to show what they can do.
I think Shaun North's arrival is key in that. He has worked with under-21 sides and he will be the man, it seems, charged with their development and bringing the best out of them.
However, I was a bit disappointed to find out that Powell, Bowen and Williams did not go to Devon with the rest of the squad. Dale did go, but I suspect that is only because we are a forward short at the moment.
I am guessing that is why he was on the bench at Bath as well, while the others were not involved, and I hope that is not a precedent for those four - that we are creating a squad divide there by saying I am working with these 18 and you four go over there, and therefore they are going to be 'lost' in the same way that Ed Williams was last year.
If there is not going to be some sort of regular football for them, they we need to get them games somewhere - but only if that is going to be at a decent level.
No disrespect here to the likes of Cinderford and Cleeve, but we need to getting them games higher up, to really test their mettle against ex-pros and young players like themselves who have come out of league clubs.
Somewhere like Cirencester, Evesham, and, as has been mooted after we signed Sterling-James, Redditch United in the Southern Premier is the lowest level we should be looking at to get them game-time if needed.
Ideally, I would want to see them them playing in the Conference North or South at places like Worcester, Gloucester, Oxford City, Leamington, Solihull Moors, Bath or Weston-super-Mare, so if we need them in the first team they have some sort of sharpness and have not just been putting cones out for a few months.
Another key factor is that Yates needs to trust them. I hope he has told them that there are first-team chances for them if we get a few injuries or suspensions and does not go cap in hand to the board for a short-term stop-gap loan player.
I don't think Harry Williams looked out of place in the run-outs he had towards the end of last season, and I would much rather see them given a chance. OK, it might be a bit sink or swim for them to start with, but unless they are given that chance, how will we know what they can do?
The point of having a bigger squad was, I thought, to avoid the need for these loans and I would hope, by the end of the season, that all four of these younger players have at least come of the bench somewhere and started the odd game here and there as well - maybe a target of 10 combined start/sub appearances each - so we can really judge their potential.
Young players are the way to go for this club. They are the ones who will save and potentially earn us some money down the line so we need to make sure we give them the best possible chance to shine.
But for the whole squad, the crunch time is now coming. Bury is less that two weeks away, and with the squad about 90 per cent complete now, these last three friendlies, with Bristol City, Kidderminster and Redditch, take on a bigger significance as players jostle for positions.
Having 22 players means, for the first time in a long time, there is real competition in all areas. I would say at this stage you can pencil in Trevor Carson, Matt Taylor, Matt Richards, Lee Vaughan and Byron Harrison for Gigg Lane, but the other six starting places are still very much up for grabs for whoever wants to put a marker down.
Jason Taylor and Asa Hall are the favourites to edge out Joe Hanks for two midfield roles, unless a new arrival comes in to join that fight.
The Braham-Barrett/Black tussle is hard to call, along with the choice between Elliott and Brown at centre-half then you have Sterling-James, Arthur, Haworth, Gornell and Kotwica (if he improves) vying for two wider roles, with another forward maybe to come and join the party, so there is still plenty for Yates and his staff to ponder.
The starting line-ups for the next two friendlies in particular could be interesting and give us a few more clues...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The show moves on

THE next stage of the CTFC pre-season roadshow took us to the New Windmill Ground in Leamington on Friday night.
I missed the first 10 minutes - the perils of having three children in tow, who need to be fed and I was remiss of not factoring this and the subsequent call of nature stop into the travel calculations.
But on arrival, I hadn't missed much, bar the arrival of two new triallists and, as expected, the fielding of a young-looking, mix-and-match side.
We started like this: McNamara; Braham-Barrett, Deaman, Elliott, Bowen; Hanks, Joe Curtis (new triallist), Williams; Sterling-James, Kotwica, Rakish Bingham (new triallist).
In the 35 minutes of first-half action I did see, I thought we were once again neat and tidy - the passing out from the back and pressing from the front that we have seen in previous friendlies being in evidence once again.
We also started with the 4-3-3 system, two wide men supporting one main forward, and there were some solid, if not spectacular displays.
Harry Williams scored the first goal after a Curtis free-kick deflected into his path off the defensive wall, and having shaded the first half I thought we were good value for that lead.
On-trial goalkeeper Ben McNamara, a bit shaky at Evesham, looked more self-assured and pulled off one very good save after a mistake by Braham-Barrett, playing once again at right-back and showing why we need some cover there.
Joe Hanks was playing a deep midfield role, and was or best first-half player in my view - but overall the younger element in the side, Bowen, Williams and Kotwica, showed more than they had in the opening 45 at Evesham.
Of the two triallists we had seen before, Deaman was solid enough, bar a mistake in the run-up to Leamington's equaliser, whole Sterling-James was quieter than he had been against Evesham and Bristol Rovers.
As far as the new ones go, I thought Curtis, a 20-year-old who came through that famed academy at Southampton and was given a pro contract, was busy, keen to get involved and full of industry, but probably too similar to what we already have to get a chance with us.
Bingham is also 20 and freed by Wigan via a loan spell with Falkirk last season. He was at one time a target for Manchester City and Newcastle, and had been on trial with Bournemouth earlier this summer.
He scored for them in a 2-2 draw with FC Copenhagen during their training camp and Mark Yates got a glowing reference on him from their manager Eddie Howe.
He showed some decent touches and clearly has ability, but I felt he was holding back on a few occasions, and subsequently found out he is coming back from a cruciate injury, which would explain a slight reticence to give it the whole hog in a pre-season game.
We will see if they get invited to the training camp in Devon next week as a clue to whether they might stand a chance of getting something with us.
Late in the game, we saw some of the cavalry arrive - Troy Brown, Matt Richards, Jason Taylor, Andy Haworth and Byron Harrison, along with Adam Powell and Bobbie Dale all getting run-outs.
The winner came from a decent move finished off by a Matt Richards header (yes, header...!) and all-in-all it was a decent enough run-out on a pretty warm evening.
It was good to see Steve Elliott come through after he limped off against Bristol Rovers, while there was no Terry Gornell and Paul Black after their knocks in that game, while we didn't see Asa Hall either.
Unfortunately, the balmy evening game way to a pretty soggy Saturday for the open day at Seasons, but all credit to those involved as the show went on regardless and it was good to see a decent turnout.
Those who organised it did a fantastic job and the feedback since the event on social media has been positive and I think it will lay a good foundation for the season ahead and has done good work for the unity within the club and the supporters.
The training session was interesting to watch (no Gornell and Hall involved, but everyone else trained) and it was good to see plenty of smiles on faces on and off the training field.
We all waited for the new kit and the rain stopped just in time for Miss Cheltenham and the squad to model our new red and white striped kit - and very smart it looks as well.
I have made no secret that I wanted us to keep the ruby, but I like the new kit and am especially happy to see white shorts rather than red or black, and it was also great to see long queues to buy the new shirts and hopefully the club has made some decent money from it.
As well as that, it was encouraging to see the Trust and 500 Club getting new membership sign-ups. These two ventures do a lot for the club in raising money and financing improvements to the facilities and should be supported.
All in all, it was an excellent day and something I hope will become an annual event now. Everyone - directors, management, players and fans - bought into it and this sort of united front can only serve us well for the new season.
The best part for me was the players' attitudes. Every photo request and autograph request was met with a smile. There was no slinking into the background - they were talking to fans, engaging with them and putting across a positive tone, and in the training session there was plenty of smiles on faces suggesting a tight-knit group developing.
As you would expect, there were a few rumours flying around, and the main one was that we have offered contracts (I assume one year each) to the triallists Deaman and Sterling-James (Jon Palmer's story on this here)
They were involved in training at the open day, and the consensus from the fans I spoke to about this on Saturday was positive. Many seem to have been impressed by them both, and agree that the pair are worth a punt.
Deaman hopefully will benefit from working alongside Steve Elliott and definitely falls into the young and hungry category we have banged on about so much this summer.
He is decent in the air and his distribution from the back is pretty good, and he has fired out some decent diagonal passes in the games we have seen, but needs to work, I feel, on his positioning and timing of the tackle but there is something to work on there.
He is also helped by his versatility. He can play at right-back, so will give us some cover there, and played a number of Conference South games for Eastbourne Borough last season as a holding midfielder, sat just in front of the back four.
Sterling-James has excited people since his cameo at Evesham, and he was also bright against Bristol Rovers. He had less impact against Leamington, but again over the three games has shown potential.
That in itself is the trouble with young players, and wingers in general - they will be hit and miss.
But he is a rough diamond, and hopefully working with Yatesy and Shaun North can smooth him out a bit and he might be a useful weapon late in games - let's hope he isn't another Bagasan Graham or Sos Yao.
Assuming the rumours are true and they have been offered and accept the deals offered, they will take the squad to 20 players, as follows:

Goalkeeper: Carson
Defenders: Vaughan, Braham-Barrett, Elliott, Brown, Black, Deaman
Midfielders: Richards, Hall, Taylor, Hanks, Powell, Williams
Wingers: Sterling-James, Kotwica, Haworth, Bowen
Strikers: Harrison, Dale, Gornell

Yates has said all along he wants 23 players, so that leaves three gaps to fill and there are a few squad numbers still going spare - notably 4 and 7, with number 12 for a sub goalkeeper, who will fill squad space 21.
He wants back-up to Trevor Carson, a right-back centre-half (Deaman now, we assume), a winger (Sterling-James it seems) a striker and a centre-half.
The striker may yet be Jamie Cureton coming back to re-claim his number 7 shirt, and the latest on this saga from Jon Palmer is here.
I made my feelings pretty clear on this move in the last blog, and feel it would be a retrogade step, but am prepared to be proved wrong on this one if Curo comes back.
But judging by his post-match interview at Leamington there still seem to be other targets from outside the triallists, notably this centre-half from a League One side who could be our potential captain.
We are told he is in his early 30s and has a year left on his contract with his current club, and a friend has been doing some detective work - and there are not many players who fit the bill.
However, he has found three - Chesterfield's Ian Evatt, Doncaster's Jamie McCombe and Oldham's Adam Lockwood.
Of course there may be some who have slipped through the net, but there is no doubt that any of the above three would greatly enhance our squad.
Evatt is 32, with 400-plus League games mainly for Chesterfield and Blackpool, while McCombe is 31 and is coming up to the 400 appearance mark with seven clubs and Lockwood is 32 and was at Forest Green on loan in 2001 before playing most of his league games for Doncaster and Yeovil.
I have no information on who this mystery player is - this is just idle speculation based on someone else's Google trawls, but I wouldn't turn my nose up on any of those three joining us.
The squad are off to Devon this week for three days training and bonding time before we play at Bath next Saturday - and we might have a few more answers to the gaps in the squad by then.



Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Picking up the Gas

AS pre-season goes on, so you look for more improvements and more signs that things are coming together.
So, as we went into pre-season friendly number three, that was what I was hoping to see as Bristol Rovers came to town.
After the Wolves game, in which we didn't have the ball for long periods and concentrated more on shape and organisation, and Evesham, which was an exercise in trying people out on a tricky surface, this game was going to be more of a benchmark for where we are.
Forget the jibes about letting a non-League side play on our pitch, this would be more of an even test - a proper game if you like, and I thought we cam through it pretty well overall.
Hours after David Cameron had taken the knives to his Cabinet, Mark Yates had done the same with his crop of triallists, and I think he got the decisions right.
Everyone, myself included, wanted Duncan Culley to succeed with us. The attitude was right and he tried his best in the two outings he had, but taking out the sentiment there was little evidence to me that he was going to be ready to go into the team straightaway.
We cannot just give contracts out willy-nilly because a player has scored 40-odd goals and comes from a local team and say wouldn't that be a lovely idea to have a player like that. They have to earn it and be worthy of it.
If, for example, Byron Harrison got injured, or was sold, would Culley have been able to come in straight away and stand in for him? I think the answer to that would be no, and that it what we need - oven-ready players.
The same goes for the others - is Kieran Wallace better than Joe Hanks? No, and he is older. Jermaine Hylton better than Zack Kotwica? Probably not, and he is older, while Andre Streete did not look to be of the level required.
So Jack Deaman and Omari Sterling-James were the two who made the cut and in the event probably got a longer than expected chance to show what they have to offer.
Goalkeeper Ben McNamara has also stayed on, but I think that is more to do with us having no permanent back-up for Trevor Carson more than that he has a chance of a long-term stay.
After his game at Evesham, there was no Jamie Cureton. Post-match Mark Yates said that situation was still up in the air, as Curo had not turned up for training with that put down to a communication breakdown.
There is still interest from Dagenham, and he may yet play another game for them this week, but the more I think about it, the more I am totally ambivolent to his return, whether he is taking a pay-cut or not.
When he was freed, were told it was because Yates wanted to go with a younger squad. So what has changed with that mantra between May and mid-July?
Then there is the system. The 4-3-3 would not, in my view, suit him. He cannot play the lone 'Harrison' role, and I feel  he would be lost playing the floating wider roles which Andy Haworth and Terry Gornell filled to start with last night.
So how many games would he start? He scored 11 in 23 starts last season. A season which is 46 games long - so he didn't start the other 23 games. Yes, I know he had the shoulder injury but if he comes back he probably wouldn't start more than 15 games. Is that still value for money?
And would he be happy with that? Yes, he wants to stay in the League, so desperately it seems that the financial wishes have come down a lot. The fact he is now cheap should not make the decision for us. On the field is all that matters.
Yes, he would be a help to Byron, Terry and Bobbie Dale. But are we now giving contracts to players so they can help out others and sit on the bench every week?
Some supporters want him back - but I wonder if that would be the reaction if it wasn't Jamie Cureton, but another 38-year-old striker. How many would want us to sign a 38-year-old midfielder to play the odd game but help Hanks and Adam Powell? Or a 38-year-old defender to help develop Troy Brown further? Not many I would wager.
As a friend of mine said, would you buy something from a shop that you didn't necessarily need just because the price was cut by 70 per cent? Like Duncan Culley above, there is no room for sentiment.
We have to be hard-nosed about this - he was released in the summer for a few reasons and I don't see that these reasons have changed. There are younger players out there who I think could do a better job.
Anyway, on to the game, and we started with the same formation as we did against Wolves - Carson; Vaughan, Brown, Elliott, Black; Taylor, Hall, Richards; Gornell, Harrison, Haworth.
We started slowly, but as the first-half wore on I thought we hit our straps and once again the shape and organisation was evident, and we were playing a pressing game to some effect.
The midfield three were at heart of this again, with Jason Taylor especially having a good game.
Yates was asked about him after the game, and he said that his attitude had been excellent in pre-season - and with no clubs beating down the door to take him, he will have a part to play.
It may be that the deeper role in the midfield three will suit him. He doesn't have much running to do and he can break the play up in there and give the ball to Hall or Richards, or the wide men, as he did on a number of occasions to good effect against Rovers.
Added to that is the fact that Yates does not have another midfielder on his shopping list. So in that central area, we have Hall, Richards, Taylor, Hanks, Harry Williams and Adam Powell. If it was August 9 now, Taylor would be on the teamsheet at Bury on merit.
The first-half was marred by injuries to Steve Elliott and Terry Gornell - Elliott with a tight hamstring and Gornell got a kick on his ankle, both seemingly precautionary, but gave Deaman and Sterling-James another opportunity.
I thought Deaman did okay without really standing out. He has a decent attitude we are told, but I thought he looked a bit suspect in the air at times, and lost concentration on a couple of occasions on the floor.
He can pass a ball as the crossfield effort he pinged out to Kotwica late on showed but I cannot see him being a first-choice player here. He can also play right-back and has played as a holding midfielder as well, so that versatility might work in his favour.
Sterling-James was lively at times, he nearly scored and showed he has some pace about him, but I would worry about end product and decision-making. He is very raw and I would doubt whether he is 'oven-ready' and would be very much a big punt if he was to get a deal.
It may be that he is one to keep an eye on along with his mate Jermaine Hylton, and for now he might be better off getting some regular games at Redditch or elsewhere in a high standard of non-League and see how he develops.
We also lost Paul Black in the second half after a meaty 50-50 challenge which he wasn't going to pull out of - pre-season or not pre-season - and despite the injury that was a good sign. Again we are told it is not serious.
But the loss of Black, Elliott and Gornell showed, if we didn't know it already, how thin the squad is at the moment, and how we need these five hoped-for reinforcements ASAP.
Yates is playing the long game however. Three of his premier targets we are told are training at their clubs, so hopefully no repeat of a player coming in and being off the pace.
One is a central defender, who might also be captaincy material, which is encouraging. We are told that player is at a League One club, and has a year left on his contract there. Over to you Mr Google.
Back-up keeper, centre-half, right back/centre-half, winger, attacker - that remains the wanted list - but what of the others who are definitely ours?
Trevor Carson did what he had to with no fuss and wasn't really tested last night.
Lee Vaughan is going to be favourite - he might be small in height but there is a big appetite in there I think. He turned in another good performance.
Troy Brown was his usual self, a steady performance alongside both Elliott and Deaman, while Black looked solid enough, defending well and getting forward as well - same going for Braham-Barrett when he came on, although CBB did have one or two positional issues again I felt.
The midfield three of Taylor, Hall and Richards have the early makings of a decent little unit. They hunted in packs and looked to pass the ball quickly with good tempo and movement. Joe Hanks carried that on when he came on for Hall and came close to a goal at the end.
If they carry on like this, you can see why Yates isn't targetting a midfielder at present - that would of course change if Taylor was to move on.
Up front, I thought Andy Haworth had his best run-out so far. He looked to have an appetite for taking people on, and wasn't scared to have a shot when it was on, so there is some hope there.
Gornell was on for about 40 minutes before his injury, and I thought at times he looked a little lost. I am a fan of Terry.
I like 'clever' footballers like him, but my concerns about where he fits into the team and system are growing - more so if we are bringing in another winger.
Last but not least is Byron Harrison - and he was outstanding, with his terrific finish for the only goal capping his display.
Yates wanted to take him off after 70 minutes, but he wanted to stay on - that's a good attitude and shows a happy player enjoying his football and it shows.
What I really liked about Byron last night was his strength. He was holding the ball up, back to goal, laying it off and making some good, willing runs into channels and through the middle.
That is a dimension of his game we didn't see so much last year, and bodes well for the season to come. He knows he will be the focal point of the team in this system and seems to be buying into that role.
Hanks and Kotwica came off the bench, Kotwica's pass setting Harrison's goal up at the start of a big season for the teenager. We saw some flashes of promise last season, but that needs to progress further this time.
Pre-season now goes on to Leamington on Friday, then the three-day training camp near Exeter while Yates looks to tie up these last five newcomers before Bury.
One thing which did strike me and those watching with me last night was that we seem a bit of a 'small' team, height-wise. Carson is not the tallest for a goalkeeper, the two new full-backs are not that tall - indeed, of the starting side last night, I'd say maybe only Elliott, Hall and Harrison were six-foot plus.
So I'd hope these last five have some height about them. As for the centre-back, I want a lump - a Boka Freeman type, who will head it all day long, as I am slightly concerned about our aerial prowess in that area.
But last night gave me more causes for optimism than pessimism. There was a fluency about us, and a win and a clean sheet, although it was only a half-paced friendly, cannot be sneezed at.
Let's hope we can continue to improve and Yates can have some success on the recruitment front, then that optimistic outlook may increase further.



Saturday, 12 July 2014

A double header

So we are under way - two games in to a 50-odd game season.
We have used about 25 players over these two games against Wolves and Evesham, some of whom we will probably never see again after the next few days, but we have nothing to lose by giving them a go - you never know what these things may turn up.
Starting with the Wolves game, we went in with, on paper, a strong-looking line-up of Carson; Vaughan, Brown, Elliott, Braham-Barrett; Taylor, Hall, Richards; Gornell, Harrison, Haworth.
The main interest of course was in new arrivals Trevor Carson, Lee Vaughan, Asa Hall and Andy Haworth, and also to see how the newly installed 4-3-3 system would shape up.
Wolves also started with a very strong side, and were moving the ball quickly, across the field and using width very effectively.
This gave us a good test, and overall I felt our organisation was good. We kept our shape well, worked hard and in the opening half hour or so largely kept them at arm's length bar one good chance lifted over the bar.
Then Troy Brown was adjudged to have fouled Michael Jacobs and Bakary Sako put away a cheeky chipped penalty, then two minutes later we were opened up for the only time in that first half.
Sako got down the left for Wolves, cut it back and Nouha Dicko laid it off for David Edwards to finish easily.
Aside from the goals, Carson didn't have a save of any note to deal with, while at the other end we hadn't created much in the final third.
To be honest I didn't expect us to - my main focus was on our discipline, shape and organisation, which I thought was good, and we stuck to our task well.
Of the new boys Vaughan and Hall looked decent, with Taylor and Richards combining well with him in the midfield three. Vaughan got forward well, as did Braham-Barrett on the other side, and they both did reasonable jobs defensively.
As I said, further up the field it was tough for the front three, with Haworth not getting much of a chance to show us what he can do.
Harrison battled away well against two tough centre-backs and Gornell worked hard as ever with little reward.
Our other new boy Paul Black was a half-time arrival, and as the half wore on every outfield player was replaced, but not before we had gone 3-0 down as Leon Clarke ran through and finished with ease.
Our eventual team when all the changes had been made was Carson; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Black; Powell, Wallace, Williams; Dale, Culley, Kotwica.
Many of those changes came after we pulled a goal back with a lovely Richards free-kick, while Wolves had changed their entire side at the break.
Even after all the changes I thought we tried to keep passing the ball, kept our shape well again, and stuck to the task in hand.
We got a look at Duncan Culley, the 46-goal Shortwood forward, and he got about 25 minutes against two towering young centre-backs, but he battled away well - and I loved his tweet afterwards speaking of his 'pride' in pulling on a CTFC shirt. That's what we like to hear.
So overall, the superior class of Wolves showed, but the main plus for me from our display was the shape, good discipline, organisation and effort shown by every player despite the better quality opposition.
Then it was on to Evesham, and the majority of those who finished against Wolves then started at Evesham - eight in fact - with triallist goalkeeper Ben McNamara, young pro James Bowen and some bloke called Jamie Cureton coming in for Carson, who was rested, while Dale and Powell had a run-out on Saturday morning for the youth team.
To say that last name came as a shock was a bit of an understatement. We knew had done a bit of training with us, but he has had a game for Dagenham and Redbridge this summer and all the talk was that he was off to try and shoot Torquay back into the League.
Well, maybe he isn't. Maybe we are going to have another Hugh McAuley situation - player released in May, then re-signed in July, only this time, and unlike Hughie, the manager hasn't changed in the meantime.
So the first-half team was McNamara; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Black; Kotwica, Williams, Wallace, Bowen; Cureton, Culley - lining up in a 4-4-2.
This team of five pros and six triallists (counting Curo) struggled. They weren't able to get any fluency going, and the highlight was a lovely piece of skill by Kotwica with some control on a chest, a quick turn and then a cross which led to Cureton having a shot saved.
None of the triallists really enhanced their chances of staying on past next week in my view. The centre-half Andre Streete and midfielder Kieran Wallace were disappointing, and the goalkeeper Ben McNamara looked very shaky throughout the game, especially with his handling.
Culley again put himself about, with the occasional piece of good hold-up play and lay-offs, but I just have doubts that he would cut it at Football League level.
The other centre-half, Jack Deaman, was probably the best of them I thought without being really outstanding, it you get my drift. He ended up playing the full 90. He isn't bad in the air and played some nice cross-field balls, but looked troubled at times by players running at him - he might be one to keep an eye on again and see how he progresses.
There were two half-time changes, Gornell for Cureton and Braham-Barrett for Black, and then we made three other changes. These included a first look at the two Redditch lads who have been training with us, Omari Sterling-James and Jermaine Hylton, who came on to play on the flanks in place of Bowen and Kotwica, while Culley gave way to Richards.
The system changed to 4-2-3-1 - McNamara; Hanks, Deaman, Streete, Braham-Barrett; Wallace, Richards; Sterling-James, Williams, Hylton; Gornell.
Before he went off, Kotwica had a shot well saved and we started to look livelier as the more 'senior' players were introduced, and we were to make five more changes, with Taylor, Haworth, Harrison, Vaughan and Brown coming on, and we finished the game strongly.
By the end of the game, our team was: McNamara; Vaughan, Deaman, Brown, Braham-Barrett; Taylor, Richards; Sterling-James, Haworth, Hylton; Harrison - in a 4-2-3-1 system.
The plus points of the latter stages for me came down our right-hand side, where Vaughan and the triallist Sterling-James looked lively and caused problems, and that was where our chances were created, and I also thought Richards had a good cameo.
Richards set Hylton up for a chance which was well saved, and Sterling-James put a cross in which went across the face with no-one getting a touch, and the triallist then had a shot saved himself.
Harrison tried a long-range lob, and we finally got the draw right at the death when Vaughan drive through and cut it back for Haworth to finish at the far post.
Post-match, Yates explained that talks are ongoing with Cureton and a CTFC return is a real possibility for the man who is 39 next month.
Many fans have been under the misconception that Cureton was on 'mega-money' here last season, and I even saw figures of 2k a week mentioned. That is well wide of the mark - and I am led to believe that he would be on even less were he to return. The guy just wants to stay in the Football League.
I believe letting him go last summer was the correct decision, and therefore feel very much 50-50 about the possibility of a return.
If we are going to play this 4-3-3/4-5-1 system with one through the middle (usually Harrison) then I am struggling to think where he will fit in.
I cannot see him playing in the 'wide forward' role and I didn't see enough evidence last season that he could take on the lone role through the middle - and I have to say, much as it pains me to say it as he is a favourite of mine, the same goes also for Terry Gornell.
Yates has said also that he wants another winger, so that will only add to the competition for places in the forward areas.
But Cureton is one of those players who needs to start games regularly, and get that momentum going. I am not sure he is going to do that, and he is not the kind of player these days who can have an impact from the bench, and come on and change a game.
There are benefits of course. I think he was very good for Byron last season - I think he gave him plenty of kicks up the backside when they were needed, and our young pros (especially Bobbie Dale as a fellow striker) are only going to learn from his example and experience.
As for the triallists, Monday could be a day of destiny for a few of them, ahead of the Bristol Rovers game on Tuesday.
Personally, I would have another look at the Redditch lads and possibly give Culley one final look, along with Deaman, the latter only because we are short of central defenders at the moment. McNamara, Streete and Wallace would get a thanks, but no thanks from me.
I wonder by then if a Cureton return will have been sealed, but we might get to see him anyway against his former club.
What these games have shown us is that defensive strengthening is quite rightly Yates' priority.
Brown and Elliott are our only two centre-backs, and right-back is an area where we don't have like-for-like cover. Joe Hanks has played there, out of position, at times in the past two games. I don't want that to become a long-term thing and I am sure Joe doesn't either. He is a midfield player.
Yates says he has a player very much on his radar - a central defender who has a year on his contract with his club, and who we learn via Jon Palmer is believed to be in his early 30s.
There are quite a few players fitting that description dotted around the leagues, but focus seems to have fallen on Exeter's Danny Coles, aged 32, and transfer-listed and stripped of the captaincy after a Twitter row during an England World Cup game with a teenage Grecians fan ended in abusive fashion.
Yates again said after the game that he wants 23 players. We currently have 18 and Cureton's return would make that 19.
So four spots left to fill - with this central defender, a back-up goalkeeper, a winger (and he said post-match that Ashley Grimes is 'not likely') and another defender who can play right back/centre back the positions he wants to target, which would bring us to 23.
There may be a long-term loan or two in that quartet, and I can't argue too much with those areas of focus - but have to confess I would like another central midfielder.
We have Richards, Hall and Taylor, plus Hanks, with Williams and Powell - so I think we need another one especially with Taylor listed, although there isn't exactly a queue to take him off our hands.
The time may well come when Yates thinks that if no-one is going to take him, he may as well try to use him, and to be fair to the player there seems to have been nothing wrong with his attitude in these two games.



Friday, 11 July 2014

Here we go

IN a few hours time, Oliver Langford's whistle will herald the start of another 10-month rollercoaster.
Ups, downs and bits in the middle will await us, and - let's face it - nobody really knows what we can expect in the next 50-odd matches between now and next May.
But one thing we do know is that our season will not be defined by what happens tonight against Wolves, or tomorrow at Evesham, or in the games coming up against Bristol Rovers, Leamington, Cinderford, Bath, Bristol City and Kidderminster.
It is stressed every year. Pre-season games are not about results. They are for managers and coaches to work out different systems, try things out and try players in different roles.
It is a time for players to bed themselves in to new clubs, to get used to playing with new arrivals and just to have a ball at their feet once again. They can also maybe get a headstart on rivals for their place in the side.
For triallists it is the chance to give themselves an opportunity at a contract, and some players may shine, and others may not.
I remember a 16-year-old Theo Lewis coming off the bench to score a late equaliser against Southampton in July 2008. It was meant to be the arrival of a new star... he has just signed for Woking. Southampton had some bloke called Adam Lallana in their side that day. Don't know where he is now.
A convincing win in any of the games is not a sign that we are on the right track towards a successful season in the same way that a heavy or unexpected defeat means a swift trip to the Conference beckons.
Remember the summer of 2011. In fact, it was three years ago tomorrow when we travelled up to Stourbridge with a new signing called Russ Penn in the side (whatever happened to him?) along with Alan Bennett, Marlon Pack and Kaid Mohamed.
We suffered what the Echo described at the time as a 'meek' 2-0 defeat, ending the game with 10 mendue to injuries.
After that game, social media told us were were 'certainties for relegation'. We ended that season at Wembley via an FA Cup game at Spurs, and that side is still much-missed and lamented over regularly by fans.
On the other side, last July we went to Evesham and won 7-0. That was supposed to be the springboard for great things according to some keyboard gurus. Now those players are mainly persona non grata and many would be happy to see them all swapped for the 2011-12 ones. Yes, you know, the ones who lost at Stourbridge.
Leeds have had a summer of turmoil and they won a friendly 16-0 in Italy yesterday. However, I am sure you won't see many of their fans hailing Dave Hockaday as the new Mourinho as they save up for their 2015-16 Premier League season tickets on the back of that result.
There needs to be perspective, but we all know that won't happen.
The results will be picked over as usual and players' performances analysed in the finest detail, with, I am sure, some new arrivals written off before they have started and triallists hailed with a clamour to sign a contract now or urged to get on their bikes sharpish.
These first two games are a sharp contrast.
Against Wolves we will mainly be on the back foot I would expect, while Evesham should see us have more of the ball, so it could be that we can test our defensive strength in the Wolves game and our offensive capabilities at Evesham.
I think my main interest from these games and the ones coming up will be what systems we play rather than players' individual performances.
Much has been made of fans' dislike for the diamond, and there seems to have been no secret of the fact that we are going to try and go back to the 4-3-3/4-5-1 system of 2011-12 for our Plan A.
But I would hope also that we might see some evidence of a Plan B or Plan C as well in the coming weeks, something which has been rather lacking.
I think this can only serve to emphasise how much of a key figure our new first-team coach Shaun North will be this season, and hopefully he and Mark Yates will gel as well off the field as the new-look side will gel on it.
I saw a tweet from our fitness coach Ian Hutton, which read: "Can't speak highly enough of our new first team coach Shaun North. Learning so much all the time."
The off-field dynamics were not right last season, and that transferred itself on to the field.
The changes which have been made have given a new freshness which it is hoped will lead to a better environment for players to thrive.
North comes in with a fresh pair of eyes and every player, new or old, younger or more experienced, is starting from scratch with him. He has no favourites or agendas, so can hopefully give Yates an objective view of what he sees.
On the field, we have 18 contracted players and will also, it seems, see five triallists in the coming weeks - for at least the next three or four games anyway, and it is on them where much of the focus will be placed.
They face an uphill task for a contract, as our previous record of turning trials into contracts is not exactly prolific.
I have been struggling to think in recent years of many players who have come in for pre-season trials or any other trials for that matter who have ended up sticking around.
We took Bagasan Graham on at the start of 2011-12, and that wasn't exactly a roaring success. I guess technically Luke Summerfield came in as a triallist that season too, signing after a game at Newport (which we lost 1-0).
But for each one of those, there are plenty of others like Joe Anyinsah, Josh Klein-Davies, Tristan Plummer, George Bowerman and Luke Bottomer who have come in fleetingly, done well in friendlies and then disappeared again.
This year's crop is headed by Duncan Culley, fresh from FA Cup exploits and 40-plus goals for Shortwood United last season, and personally it is him I am most interested in seeing in the coming games.
I have seen him play for Wood once or twice, and anyone who scores goals at any level is worth a look. 
The club has been moaned at in the past for not having an eye on local players - I remember the criticism the club got in the Marc McGregor saga many years ago when he was banging them in for Endsleigh FC and ended up at Forest Green.
Culley is 25 and a late developer with an interesting sideline as a part-time model who nearly became a rabbit-handler for a 61-year-old ex Playboy bunny (well, so the Daily Mail said anyway - here).
Apparently, he didn't start playing football until he was 21, and I'd like to see him succeed as if he could make it, there would be hope for other local talent which I am sure is out there somewhere waiting to be found.
The others fall into the young and hungry category we have heard so much about - two lads from Redditch United, Jermaine Hylton and Omari-Sterling-James, and an ex-Nottingham Forest midfielder in Kieran Wallace.
Hylton is 21 and scored 16 league goals in the Southern League Premier last season, including two hat-tricks (playing one level above Culley and Shortwood) and was reportedly watched by bigger clubs including Birmingham City, having played for Continental Star and spent time at Kidderminster.
Sterling-James scored eight times for the Reds in the League last season and a quick Google trawl shows he has spent time at Birmingham and Walsall, had trials for Swedish club Ostersunds and also turned out for Alvechurch, who are a 'link club' to Birmingham City.
The Redditch manager has had his say on the trials for there two players here and seems sure that won't be leaving his club.
Wallace is 19 and has played for England under 16s and 17s, but was released by Forest after being with them from the age of eight. You can find a profile on him here which describes him as having 'great technique and a great left foot' as well as ability to sneak in around the back post to get goals. We shall see.
We are also trying out another goalkeeper in Ben McNamara, a 25-year-old Aussie who has spells at Northampton and Nuneaton and a trial at AFC Wimbledon behind him.
Listening to his recent interviews, Yates has said he wants anything between three and five more players, but we know one of them is not Neal Trotman, the former Plymouth centre-back.
But a centre-half is priority as we only have Steve Elliott and Troy Brown, so it is very likely that we will be seeing the sight of Jason Taylor playing there in the next two games - unless we get some late signing action or another triallist, or there even may be a chance for one of the scholars to get a run-out.
Then there is our old pal Ashley Grimes. Is he on the radar or not...? We have been told he is, and it is believed to be between us or Oxford. Are they still interested after their coup d'etat the other day at the Kassam which saw Michael Appleton take over as manager? Are we still really interested? Who knows.
Grimes played for Bury and scored twice in a 4-1 win at Radcliffe Borough the other day, but there were only four 'senior' players in a side of youth teamers and triallists, and the team's physio came on as a sub, so that doesn't strike me as he is beating a route back into Dave Flitcroft's plans.
In an ideal world, my shopping list would be a back-up goalkeeper, a centre-half, a central midfield player, a wide player and another forward, and I am sure some long-term loans will come into play.
But this is not an ideal world, and we don't have any real right-back cover for Lee Vaughan - so do we look for someone who can play right-back or centre-half a la Keith Lowe (whatever happened to him?).
Still so many questions, and tonight will only be the start of the quest for some answers.



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Expectations...

SO the waiting will soon be over.
The players have reported back to Seasons, where they have started strength and conditioning work with fitness coach Ian Hutton before the proper stuff gets under way next week, ahead of the first friendly now around two weeks away.
When they get together today, there will be two new faces, left-back Paul Black and winger Andy Haworth, taking the squad strength up to 17.
The arrivals were announced just as England were about to kick-off their World Cup friendly against Costa Rica, and like the Three Lions' performances in Brazil, the reaction to the arrivals has been not entirely positive.
That, of course, is nothing new. The same happens every time a new face comes in.
Twitter is used to try to glean opinions on the new boy(s) from fans of their previous clubs. These are not always positive - so are immediately seized upon as 'evidence' that we have signed a dud.
Soccerbase and Wikipedia are consulted to find their previous appearances and goal records. These are not always relevant depending on the position of the player, but this doesn't always stop the detractors.
But it seems the biggest issue with some signings, including these two, is that many fans simply have never heard of the player involved.
Early yesterday, there was a Twitter frenzy when our former player Andy Gallinagh tweeted that he was putting our ex-midfielder Luke Summerfield through his paces before Summers starts pre-season on Tuesday, somewhere...
Gallinagh lives in Evesham, so of course two and two were immediately added together, and allied to Mark Yates' comment last week of 'three or four' signings hopefully being completed by Monday or Tuesday, everyone sat back and waited for the great unveiling.
Fuel was added by Jon Palmer, who has for a while been asking fans if they would like Summerfield back, to which the reaction has largely been positive and seen many jump to the conclusion it is a viable possibility.
On the 'Summers coming back' front, I personally am 50-50 on it. I am an advocate of 'never go back' - see Gillespie, Vincent, Melligan as recent examples of good players coming back here with nowhere near their previous impact - leave the past in the past is where I stand.
The expectation on him to replicate his form of 2011-12 would be great, and I am sure we can all imagine the reaction if it doesn't happen straight away.
I also know that Mark Yates was unhappy with the circumstances in which he left. After we gave him a chance to get himself back on track, Summers stalled on a contract extension, and then went on holiday after Wembley saying he wanted to stay, came back and signed for Shrewsbury.
I think that left a bit of a bitter taste, and we know Yates can be stubborn when it comes to players etc, so I just wonder whether he would be reluctant to go back there again.
JP then said three signings, including a goalkeeper, were happening, naming the 26-year-old former Bury and Pompey keeper Trevor Carson as the man likely to become Scott Brown's replacement.
But who was the other signing going to be, if the first is Summers? Joe Jacobson, the ex-Shrewsbury left-back, maybe? Former Crewe striker AJ Leitch-Smith? Mr U-Turn Ashley Grimes?
Oh, this waiting is killing me.
Then it came. Paul Black's arrival was announced, and you could almost feel Twitter's sense of disappointment.
Hang on. That's not Summers, Leitch-Smith, Jacobson or Grimes! It's not even Carson... what's going on?!?
No, it's Paul Black, a left-back with five years experience with Oldham in League One, leaving in the summer of 2012, then two seasons of sporadic football at Tranmere and Mansfield, with loans at Barrow and Carlisle.
So not what the Twitterati and, I assume without looking at it, the Nesterati were expecting.
Never mind. There is always the other signing. That could be Summers, AJ, Joe or Grimes. It may even be Carson.
Come on... come on...
Then, while we were desperately trying to give a toss about Roy's boys in Belo Horizonte, up it popped...
Andy Haworth.
Rather similarly to Black, he is a player who has had a nomadic existence for the past two seasons, with spells in Oxford, Bradford, Falkirk, Rochdale, Notts County and most recently Tamworth (shudder...) since leaving Bury.
I remember him at Gigg Lane, and he scored against us when we won 3-2 up there with two Josh Low goals in 2010-11. But that was one of only three goals he has scored - 'not a good record for a winger...' came the critics' chorus.
They are 24 and 25, which also fits into the 'younger squad' bracket we have been promised, and to be fair they have a decent bit of experience for their ages.
In addition, both fall into the 'hungry and with something to prove' mantra which the club are trying to get back to, they are not the 'big name at this level' that many were seemingly expecting to come through the doors.
The Twitter clamour had built up to the extent that people were expecting it to be Summerfield and one other, maybe Jacobson, and then when the signings were announced as Paul Black and Andy Haworth, the deflation was immediately apparent. You could almost hear Twitter groan.
But there's a third signing... isn't there? isn't there? ISN'T THERE?!?!?!?!?. No. Not today.
Dagenham yesterday signed a player from Eastleigh and got one the other day from Tonbridge Angels. Portsmouth recently got one from Havant and Waterlooville. So not every other club in the division is signing these 'big names'.
The so-called lower division superstars do not always produce - look at Shaun Harrad, Paul Benson, Jamie Cureton for instance. Hardly took the world by storm... but whether that was through their own shortcomings or the way they were used in the system (Harrad especially) can be open to conjecture.
Few had heard of Wes Thomas when he came. He had hardly played a league game but left with 19 goals and a slightly dodgy atlas and has done alright for himself.
Marlon Pack, Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohamed - all hardly household names, but overall they did ok for us.
Just because fans may have heard of a player before that is no guarantee he is going to produce the goods.
Therefore, my view is that these arrivals can be looked at in one of two ways.
The negative side could be that it shows us where we are now in terms of the budget Mark Yates has at his disposal, and his financial ability to compete - so it could be time for these heady sights to be lowered a bit.
Or with a positive slant, it could mean Yates is just trying to use what he has wisely, and is holding some of his budget back for other more 'expensive' targets.
Depends whether your glass is half full or half empty which side of that fence you sit on.
After all, he said he wants a squad of 22-24 players - we have 17 including the invisible man Jason Taylor who, let's face it, no club looks like they are going to take, so he still has between five and seven gaps to fill, with Carson seemingly in line to be one of them.

The squad status is now:
Goalkeepers: Carson (pending?)
Defenders: Vaughan, Elliott, Brown, Braham-Barrett, Black
Midfielders: Richards, Hall, Taylor, Powell, Hanks, Williams, Bowen, Kotwica, Haworth
Forwards: Harrison, Gornell, Dale

So now what do we need?
Black's arrival gives us two left-backs, so we have some proper, much-needed competition for Craig Braham-Barrett there, and Haworth seemingly gives us a wide option on left or right.
If the Carson deal is tied down, that is one goalkeeping slot and takes the squad to 18, but we still need another keeper, and I feel we still need a centre-half, one more midfielder, another wide man and a forward, which is five more players, meaning a squad of 23, so that could now be Yates' shopping list.
We await the proper start of pre-season next week to see if any more triallists join the one we already know about, Shortwood United's 39-goal striker Duncan Culley.
I also suspect the loan market may come into play later on - hopefully for a season-long loan or one or two until January, and that the squad size will mean we largely shy away from stop-gap arrivals this season in favour of using our own youngsters when we need to.
It also seems that squad numbers have been allocated, for what they are worth, which usually is not very much.
Just because a player has been given a number between 1 and 11, does not automatically mean they are nailed on for a starting place.
Russ Penn wore 16 for example in much of his time here, Jason Taylor was 4 and barely played, while our full-backs for most of last season were numbers 20 and 22, so these numbers don't really tell us a lot.
But some people care about these things, so for what it is worth, Lee Vaughan appears to be number 2, CBB 3, Black 18 and Haworth 11, while Zack Kotwica tweeted he is now number 17.



Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A tough job just got tougher

So the tweet few Cheltenham Town fans wanted to see finally appeared on our timelines this afternoon, and with it Mark Yates' summer rebuiding job got considerably tougher.
It was already the most difficult off-season of his four-year tenure, with the pressure of the number of players to bring in exacerbated by having a new backroom regime (if Shaun North takes the job - he has been offered it but as yet no news of a positive answer) and the fact that many fans have lost faith in his ability to pull rabbits from hats.
Therefore, Scott Brown's move to Aberdeen means he has lost, in my view, the key man in the squad - the glue which held it all together, a massive part of the spine of the team, and the one constant left from when Yates arrived at the club.
I saw a good stat earlier - that Steve Elliott is now the only player left with more than 50 league starts for the club, which is a sign of the turnover of recent years - but we still have players with plenty of experience on the books.
You cannot blame Browny for taking the chance to go, and you can't (although people have unbelievably been trying to) attach any blame to the board or the manager either.
Some shock news here - not every player who leaves the club does so because they fall out with the manager. I know some may find that hard to believe, but that is the truth.
Scott was offered a three-year contract in January, which is almost unheard of at our club. I think Lee Ridley was the last player who had a three-year deal and that wasn't exactly a roaring success.
In his last BBC Glos interview at Rochdale (before he launched into the famous non-trying rant...) he told Pete Matthews and I that the club had made him a 'fantastic offer' and there has never been any indication that he was unhappy here.
His footballing options in recent years had been limited by his desire to stay in Wolverhampton, to be close to his father, who has been very ill for a while, and he also had impending fatherhood to contemplate.
Sadly his father died recently, then his new baby arrived, and now there are no ties to Wolverhampton and Scott was able to widen his horizons, and the far north east of Scotland has won the day.
I know that some will decry the standard and competitiveness of the Scottish Premiership, but he will be playing for a club with an average gate of 13,000 at a decent stadium and also the chance of Europa League football - instead of a team averaging 10,000 less and a game or two in the JPT. No brainer really.
It's an early start - the Dons' first Europa League game is on July 3, 10 days before the World Cup final, and draw is on June 23, so not much of a break Browny!
I am sure their manager Derek McInnes became aware of him in his time at Bristol City, and Scott will be working with former Manchester United and Scotland number one Jim Leighton - a decent man to learn from.
"He is highly regarded," said McInnes. "We watched him the whole of last season and we feel we've got a more than capable goalkeeper to come in and provide real competition in that area.
"He's got good experience. He's a good age for a goalkeeper and again another one who will get better with us."

Jamie Langfield and Nicky Weaver are listed as other goalkeeping options on the Aberdeen website, and among the other names at the club are our ex-loanee Johnny Hayes, former Birmingham and Swindon forward Adam Rooney and the man who is linked to us almost as much as Bayo Akinfenwa or Izale McLeod, our old friend Calvin Zola.
So now we need to find two goalkeepers. 
Again, predictably, the manager is also being beaten around the head now because Connor Roberts has gone, and on the basis that he plays for the Welsh under-21s and is now in the full squad, it has now become a horrendous mistake to let him go.
It was a joint decision. Yates didn't feel Connor was currently number one material, and Connor wants to play regular games.
I would defy anyone who saw the Dagenham game to venture that Connor was ready now (and I stress that word) to be a number one goalkeeper in League Two. He made a hash of the own goal, and for the second goal was beaten, through his legs, at the near post.
Now, I know some will say that he should have had more of a chance - but does anyone think at any point in Connor's time here that Browny deserved to be dropped in favour of him? No, I didn't think so, so how then was Connor going to get that chance?
I will concede that he could have played in the JPT, but other than that Browny has been the out and out number one, and so deserved to be treated as such.
In the future, Connor will, I hope, go on to be a good goalkeeper, but we are not in the position where we can trust such a key role to someone who may not be ready for it yet.
I am afraid we cannot let Connor learn 'on the job'. He needs some games, maybe at Conference Premier, North or South level to build up some real experience. I cannot see him going to a Football League club and being their number one for two seasons or more. I may be wrong, you may disagree, but that's my view.
He has done well in the Wales games I have seen, but (dons helmet) he is fortunate that there are not many Welsh keepers about - and the decision of Boaz Myhill to quit internationals has pushed him up the pecking order behind Wayne Hennessey and Owain fon Williams.
In my recent blog, I named several available goalkeepers, and here are some names in the frame:
Chris Weale and Joe Anyon, both released by Shrewsbury, or Trevor Carson, formerly of Bury but on loan at Portsmouth last season.
There's Jake Cole, freed by Plymouth, or Chris Lewington, who left Dagenham, Artur Krysiak, who was at Exeter and played for Burton in that 6-5 game we all remember so well, and Peter Brezovan, who has served Brighton and Swindon in his career.
Paul Jones was freed by Crawley and Phil Smith, who had a game on trial for us at Evesham and saved a penalty is also available, as is Scott Shearer, freed by play-off winners Rotherham and Shwan Jalal, whose last club was Bournemouth.
The other name is Steve Phillips, formerly of both Bristol clubs and a loan spell with Gloucester, but freed by Crewe - a man who has had plenty of stick from CTFC fans down the years for some reason.
Maybe we should get the former AFC Wimbledon man Seb Brown, then we don't need to print a new shirt... and my BBC Glos colleague Pete Matthews won't have to learn a new name. I'll bet he calls whoever is in goal Scott Brown at least once in our first game...!!
All of those have plenty of experience under their belts at this level and above - and any of them could potentially be our number one next season, so there are people about.
There are also plenty of young goalkeepers eager to prove themselves, so I am sure one of them will want to come and give it a go with us.
Have a look here for some more, and see what you think...
Browny will definitely be missed, and we all thank him for his loyalty, attitude (especially when Jack Butland took his place for a while) and brilliant performances for CTFC down the years.
It will be strange to see a different face in our goal in July, but things have to move on, and while one door closes, another opens and we also got the out-of-the-blue arrival of Asa Hall from Shrewsbury to bolster our midfield on a two-year contract.
This one seemed to take everyone unawares. I had no wind of it and neither it seems did anyone who usually gets wind of these things, which can sometimes be a good thing.
He has played against us, most recently in the 2-2 home draw with Oxford this season, and has 200-odd starts in all competitions for Shrews, Oxford, Luton, Boston and Aldershot in permanent and loan moves.
At six-foot-two, he has some height and presence about him, and seems to weigh in with the odd goal as well, which won't go amiss in our midfield.
All in all, a solid performer with a track record at this level. I sense he won't be a spectacular flair player, but more of a hard worker - his interview saw him describe himself as high-energy, and box-to-box - more Penn than Pack I would suggest, and every team needs one of those.
So we will see where he fits in, but (random trivia alert) he will be one of the shortest names ever to play for us, with only seven letters.
We have had Tim Ward, one of our most famous past players, who went on to play for and manage Derby and also played for England, and more recently Ben Gill, who has the distinction of being the only player not to start a Football League game for us but to have scored a League goal.
But they are trumped by one of the shortest players to play for us, and one of the most remembered - Sam Cox, only six letters and the 'memorable' one game when he ended up at centre-back in the 4-0 abomination at Accrington under you-know-who despite being about four foot three wringing wet (...and still people say last season was worse than when he was in charge...)
Anyway. Back to reality, and a quick check of the squad as it stands now.

Goalkeepers: 
Defenders: Vaughan, Brown, Elliott, CBB
Midfielders: Hall, Richards, Taylor*, Kotwica, Hanks, Williams, Bowen, Powell
Forwards: Gornell, Harrison, Dale

So now we have 15 players, one of whom (*) is transfer-listed and three (in italics) yet to physically put pen to paper, although there should not be any problems with that.
Also of those 15, six are teenagers and so Yates still has some work to do - I would suggest two goalkeepers, a centre-back, a left-back, two wingers, another central midfielder and a forward or two - maybe eight or nine players still to find.
But I named 13 goalkeepers above, and there are more - and it is the same in all positions, plus it isn't even the end of May yet and the engraving is only just dry on the play-off trophies.
So it hardly time to panic, but you wouldn't know it judging by some Twitter and Facebook comments today, which have verged on the utterly ridiculous. I really do wonder sometimes if people think about what they type.
One comment said 'we are signing other people's leftovers and Conference cast-offs'. 
That is what we always do. Alan Bennett, Sido Jombati, Kaid Mohamed, Marlon Pack, Luke Summerfield, Darryl Duffy, Russ Penn, Billy Jones Keith Lowe - these names from the teams of the past two seasons which get dragged up all the time to berate the manager with as they are not here anymore - were also other people's leftovers, unwanted by other clubs when they came here - and some were Conference (and below) cast-offs too. Oh the shame...
That's what clubs at our level do. They try to sign up the best of what is available from other clubs. 
Who are these players expecting us to sign? I suppose that trying to hoover up the best of the out of contract players is 'lacking ambition' and some are expecting us to match the Burys of this world in lashing out transfer fees here and there?
Personally, I do not believe any club at our level should ever need to pay a transfer fee for a player. Paying a transfer fee does not show ambition in my eyes - it shows a reckless desperation and is not some sort of cast-iron guarantee that that particular club will be in the top seven. 
Every summer, there are more than enough decent players around, and that is the same this time, so we will be in the mix trying to sign them up, as we have been every summer, while staying within our means.
Sorry if that's boring, but that's the way it is. If you want massive transfer fees and reckless spending, then stick to the Premier League. Or move to Bury.