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.