Every summer under Danny Cowley seems to follow a pattern. He talks down the summer recruitment, fans get uppity, he eventually makes a raft of deals which keep everyone happy.
Then, just as a ball is about to be kicked or even shortly after, he whips out an ace that ends up being a key figure in a hugely successful season.
Case point one, Sean Raggett. The National league side was all-but formulated, we thought we knew the starting XI and what we had to work with. Nobody expected the Raggett signing, not least Danny. However, he had kept a bit of budget back and when a chance arose, he took it. Raggs was diverted from his journey to sign for Barrow and came to Lincoln.
What he achieved at the club will always be remembered by fans. whether it was the late goals against Forest Green or Burnley, or his powerful and heroic displays at the back, typified by Eastleigh away, he became a hero. He was influential in the charge to the title and to the FA Cup heroics and in truth, was desperately unlucky not to get his hands on a Player of the Year award. Not bad for a lad who snuck in the back door.
Wind it on one season and technically, there were two arrivals of this ilk. Who imagined we’d sign Michael Bostwick? I may have written about it, but it never occurred to me that it might actually happen. Even as the news broke there was a level of disbelief, but once again a coy summer and a canny budget meant we could swoop when the chance arose.
It is widely rumoured that Peterborough felt generous that day as Britt Assombalonga had signed moved and they’d got a cash windfall, whatever it was we ended up with one of the best players at our level last season. We can lament not securing a striker all we want, but if getting Bozzy on board for what will be three years was the cost, fair play.
Even then Danny wasn’t finished and Neal Eardley crept in through the back door with hours to spare. We’d trialled a large number of possible left backs, which is where he began for us remember. Neal Eardley, the makeweight, the last-minute stop-gap with a point to prove. Who imagined as we kicked off against Wycombe he’d beat even the powerhouse Bostwick to Player of the Year? Once again, Danny had managed to pull of a coup that we didn’t even realise was one until Eardley was rampaging up and down the line. Prior to the season there had been mention of us missing the 2016 Player of the Year, but if you ask fans on the terraces now who that was, you’d get a muted response.
Eardley and Raggett were both players who came in with little fanfare or build up, but went on to steal the show in seasons that brought silverware. City had never won two ‘major’ trophies back to back, two proper pieces of silverware in successive seasons, but that is exactly what they, and the rest of the squad managed. Would we have won those competitions without those tow players? Conjecture, but both proved Danny’s approach in the market was sound.
This summer, despite that history of great players arriving late, people still panicked a little. there was still a little unrest. The season kicked off and in my opinion we still hadn’t got the one player I feel will be pivotal to a possible third trophy in as many seasons. I talk of course, of Jason Shackell.
It’s interesting because I know Shackell’s signing was met with widespread surprise in the football world, I know within the club they felt it was a massive coup and the sort of signing on which a season can hang, yet amongst many supporters, including me, there was a bit of indifference. I didn’t follow the Championship or the Premier League during our National League spell and although I knew of Shackell, it wasn’t until I researched him after he signed I realised what a decent player he was.
There’s the age to consider though isn’t there, the lack of football in recent seasons and all that. I wondered just how much he might play, just how influential he might be. After all, surely we’d got a couple of decent centre backs and only needed cover. The Grimsby game didn’t help either, I felt he was maybe at fault for their goal, or certainly one of the players who might have stopped it.
Fast forward to right now and in Jason Shackell I see a player who could and should play 40 games this season. He’s looking dominant in the air, strong in the tackle and organises the back four excellently. Between him and Bozzy we have a pairing that should strike fear into the heart of any centre forward. The loan players from the top flight plying their trade in our division won’t have met a duo like them before.
It’s harsh on Scott Wharton, even more so on James Wilson, but the biggest indication that Shackell is a first-team staple came this weekend as he led the teams out as captain. If you were in any doubt as to his role this season, there is the answer.
The last few games have convinced me he could be this season’s Raggett or Neal Eardley, the last-minute deal that goes on to be a name we’ll talk about in fifteen years time, for the right reasons.
It’s just another endorsement of Danny’s transfer policy, the same that has brought us unprecedented success in a two and a half year spell with the club. Maybe when Danny says things, some ought to pay a bit more attention.