Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The times they are a-changing

SO another season bites the dust, and it's fair to say that 2016-17 will not be talked about with misty-eyed reverence when we sit down in our dotage and reminisce about the old days.
It started with optimism and ended with relief, and as usual with Cheltenham Town was never short of incident.
It started with our vice-captain banned for a biting incident and ended with our manager undergoing triple heart bypass surgery as we battled to avoid wasting 2015-16's heroics on  a pitch fit only for a vegetable patch.
I can't honestly say there are many games I actually enjoyed. I only saw two of our away wins, and they were arguably the best two.
They were the 3-2 at Luton (and even then I got a speeding ticket on the way home... Bedfordshire's revenge on a boy of Hertfordshire) and the 4-1 Cup win at Crewe (which Network Rail did its level best to try and make me late for).
I missed the rest of our away League wins - Grimsby, Morecambe and Leyton Orient - but had the dubious pleasure of spending afternoons and evenings at Cambridge, Hartlepool, Yeovil, Colchester, Blackpool, Stevenage and Exeter, games where we were too easily brushed aside.
The pitch ruined most of the home games. We played well in some - Carlisle, Morecambe, Accrington just about spring to mind - but the majority were pretty awful attritional battles where we were walking through treacle.
But we got there. Just. Although I must admit 'celebrating' finishing in 21st place a year after hailing the champions all night in the Whaddon Road bar was all a bit hollow for me.
Finishing above the line was the be all and end all, and Danny Wright's goal against Hartlepool was in the end priceless - as had that game gone the other way, the results on the final day would have sent us down.
That's how close it was.
As we all know, the summer recruitment was pretty poor. None of the loans (Suliman, Whitehead, Smith, Griffiths - although I felt he started okay - Arthur and the returning Dickie) had the desired effect, and one of the two permanent arrivals, Jennings, was gone as quickly as he arrived.
Storer's ban did not help, and neither did an injury to Holman, and pretty quickly we were chopping and changing the side as players struggled to adjust to what seemed to be a larger step up than they and the management had anticipated.
From about September we seemed to be willing the dawning of January 1st so we could rectify the summer errors and happily we more or less got it right this time.
Brown, Onariase, Boyle, Winchester, Plavotic, De Girolamo, Pike, Davis and Wootton formed the cavalry and all played their part to varying degrees as we scrambled our way over the line.
Next season we need to be better - and it was clear that this season's squad was not good enough and major changes were inevitable.
So we have seen 11 players leave and another handful offered new deals to join those already secured for next season and beyond.

James Dayton - I'm a fan of Dayton and his goal at Portsmouth was a frustrating glimpse of what we didn't see enough of. Fitness issues must have played a part in the decision as he did have a frustrating knack of picking up niggles.
Jack Munns - The most controversial decision and like the majority of fans I would have kept him on. However the writing seemed to be on the wall as Jack was a bit-part player for the second half of the season, although for me that excuse that the pitch wouldn't suit him was nonsense. He is the one I feel we could regret letting go.
Calum Kitscha - Really felt sorry for him at Wycombe when injury denied him a League start. Did okay in the Checkatrade Trophy games and I don't feel would have let us down in League games. But obviously not going to be first choice and needs to go and be someone's number 1. Could still have a decent career.
Liam Davis - Brilliant at Luton on his debut and performed adequately in his other games. Like Dayton, I wonder if fitness issues played a part. Was a borderline one for me and I might have been tempted to keep him for experience and he also seemed to be a decent character.
Jack Barthram - Another controversial one like Munns. Big fans' favourite as people seem to like his passion (whatever that really means...) as always seems to be the case with some of our supporters where small right backs are concerned. But there was a fallout with Gary early on and after that it seemed inevitable that his days were numbered. Another who shouldn't have any problems getting fixed up.
James Rowe - In some ways it's a surprise given the fact that he was a regular for much of the season and started 26 games. But never convinced the majority of fans, who felt Munns should be playing instead, and his set-pieces were too often disappointing.
Asa Hall, Daniel Parslow, Amari Morgan-Smith - Three players who all played a big part last season but failed to hit the heights this time around. Once they went to York on loan, their time here was over.
James Jennings - Came in August and had gone by September never to be seen again. Mark him down as a mistake I'm afraid.
Jordan Lymn - Another young player from the Academy who was given a contract then not given a chance, bar a seat on the bench a few times. We need to start trusting these boys. If we give them contracts, we need to find out if they are good enough at first team level rather than just releasing them again. It happens too often for me and it's not fair on these boys to sign them, raise their hopes, then basically ignore them. In my view, he should have played in the Checkatrade.

Contract offers
Kyle Storer - Blotted his copybook with the ban to start the season, then with two red cards which mean he sat out 15 games through suspension. But the fact that he played in all but one of our league wins despite that shows his value to the side and he redeemed himself with his leadership in the run-in.
Danny Wright - Was surprised to see some fans saying he should be released or that he was a borderline case. If there was any doubt it might have surrounded the fact that he will be 33 in September. Runs through brick walls for us and was second on the goal charts - but might not be regular starting pick next season.
Aaron Downes - A great leader and ambassador for our football club. Will be on the bench to come on shore things up late in games when needed I suspect as well as helping young defenders like Boyle, O'Shaughnessy and Bower progress. Is he a future manager of the club?
Daniel O'Shaughnessy - As you would expect from a young player in his first League season, had some good games and showed his naivety and inexperience in others. Scored three league goals, which actually made him our joint fourth L2 top scorer (and another in the Checkatrade), and the long throw is a useful weapon. Glad we are presevering with him and Downes' influence will help.
Adam Page - Two years ruined with injuries, so hope he gets a break now, and deserves the chance to prove his worth. Hope he is given an opportunity, and I know Russell and Gary like him so I'm hopeful.
Rhys Lovett - Did well on loan at Shortwood and rated by Booky. I'd have been tempted to play him at Wycombe but I assume next season he will be number 2 (as I can't see us buying two keepers) and therefore might get the Checkatrade games and the bench role. Hope he does.
Jordan Cranston - Along with Rowe, he has been the scapegoat this season, and I don't know many fans who agree with the decision to keep him on. But he has been a regular for most of the season and clearly Gary and Russ see something in him. But they signed Jennings and then Davis to either challenge or replace him so it remains to be seen whether he will start next season as our first choice left-back.
Billy Waters - Player of the season by a street, 16 goals and played some part in every game (the only man to do so). Simply has to stay, and I would hope the contract offer is for two years at least. Hoping next season to see him used through the middle more often than not.

Under contract
Harry Pell - The life and soul of the club. His late-season performances and goals dragged us through and hope he can start next season as he finished this one. But does need to cut out the yellow cards - 14 is too many.
Carl Winchester - Showed flashes of what he is capable of but didn't really grab games by the scruff of the neck as had been hoped. A pre-season will help him and so will not being used as a right-back. Hopefully.
Will Boyle - Outstanding since his arrival and I've barely seen him have an off-day. Looks a great pick-up and will surely only get better. Captain in the making and can only get better with Downesy's help.
Matt Bower - Was thought to be of sufficient promise to be fast-tracked on to a pro deal, so next season we will see if he is trusted by the management team. Like Page, Lovett and Thomas he could play in the Checkatrade. Was surprised he wan't loaned out last season, but that might happen this time - but at a decent level please (National League North/South in my view).
Josh Thomas - Youth team captain and has been on the bench a few times. A handy midfield prospect from what I have seen and can learn from Storer, Pell and Winchester. Hope he gets a chance and doesn't go the way of players like Lymn, Hanks and Williams before him, or a decent loan move to a good level.
Dan Holman - 30 goals last season, two this. That tells the story of a difficult season for him, so let's hope he stays injury-free and gets his form and confidence back. There were signs that it was coming back towards the end of the season (Crawley notably when he could have scored four) so hope he can carry that on.

So we have the nucleus of a squad there. Six under contract (of whom four would be expected starters) and eight more under offer (two starters in Storer and Waters - maybe four with Wright and Cranston).
That means a lot of work for the Johnsons as we need anywhere between three and five first-choice players to find this summer.
My wish list consists of a goalkeeper (a permanent one please), full-backs (at least one either side), two centre-backs (if we want to play a 3-5-2),  some midfielders - I'd like to see one with steel to try and stop us being a soft touch on the road and a creator/set-piece taker, proper wingers with some pace who can beat a man, get to the byline and deliver some decent crosses, and a couple of strikers - a target man with some mobility and penalty-box finisher (although Holman and Waters could do that).
Having lost 11, it's not unrealistic to expect around the same number to come in, so it could be a busy summer.
Let's hope we can do the business early as was the successful formula in 2015-16 and we can avoid a struggle like this time, so we can start looking up.
With a flashy new scoreboard coming, a better pitch promised, new additions and enthusiasm on the board fresh impetus in the Supporters Trust, and the brilliant season ticket initiative, things are changing for the better off the pitch.
It's a shame to see so many of our champions leave, but things have to move on and what they did for our club will never be forgotten.
We will still talk in years to come about Munnsy's assists and his hat-trick at Halifax, Asa's winners at Bromley and Barrow, Morgs' cracker against Wrexham, Dayts' free-kick against Grimsby, Barts' goals against Luton and Crewe, Pars' calm defending under pressure. They are always champions.
But now let's hope Gary's recovery continues and these changes on the pitch match that forward-thinking optimism off it.
The retained lists are coming out and there are already names out there who might interest us and might end up in red and white - so the merry-go-round starts again...
Have a good summer.